Tonight the Vancouver Canucks were defeated by the Chicago Blackhawks by a score 7-5, thus bowing out of the playoffs and yet again, ending another disappointing season. If you had told me at the beginning of October 2008 that the ‘nucks would make it to the second round of the playoffs, I would have not believed you. I predicted they wouldn’t even squeak into the playoffs. Instead they won the Northwest Division, swept their first round opponent, and made it six games into the second round. So based on initial predictions, they did alright this year.
Having said all of that, it’s my opinion the team as a whole can’t be very proud of how they ended their season. Despite being initially written off by many critics, they survived a huge mid-season losing streak and were one of the hottest NHL teams to finish the season. They entered the playoffs with no major injuries and even managed to land the biggest free agent signing of the year with Mats Sundin. In the first round, they battled fiercely with a good St. Louis team and probably were a bit lucky but managed to sweep the series. Then came Chicago.
Against the Blackhawks, I am still at a loss as to what happened. People should have been really worried even after the first game. In game one, they had a three goal lead which they managed to let evapourate in the third period no less. Only through some bad luck on Chicago’s part were the Canucks able to win game one. The precedent was set however and a common theme (or an Achilles’ heel) had been established.
The Canucks managed to score the first goal in every single game of the series except for one. They managed to establish early leads, sometimes leads by multiple goals, yet the common theme was a Chicago comeback which by game six appeared to be something you could bet your life savings on. It was really ridiculous. Chicago was able to come back from deficits in nearly every single game like clockwork. In tonight’s game, after Mason Raymond scored, I instantly knew Chicago would tie it up. It wasn’t a question of if but when and it turned out to be pretty damn quick. The same thing happened when Sundin scored to put the Canucks up by one. I didn’t have time for my neurons to process the goal before Kane tied it up again.
I have never seen a team play so poorly with a lead before. As a team, their inability to play with a lead was their ultimate downfall. The better teams in the league know how to win with a lead and that’s with “pedal to the metal”. The Canucks didn’t even know they were in a car.
I’d like to mention one positive thing to come out of all this. Kyle Wellwood now knows how to play like a playoff warrior because that’s what he was for the last ten games. In October, he was criticized for his fitness and nearly waived by the Canucks but he perserved. This spring, he did everything you could ask for in a hockey player. He took hits to make a play. His face got bloodied and battered as he battled for pucks. He won faceoffs. He made simple plays out of his zone. He was strong and responsible defensively. Last but not least, he scored goals. Kyle Wellwood deserves another contract with Vancouver and I’ll be sad if he signs elsewhere this summer.
Before I end this post, don’t you think I won’t make a comment about Roberto Luongo. Bobby Lou is undoubtedly a great goaltender. By the time he ends his tenure with Vancouver, he’ll probably hold almsot all of the team records associated with goalies. He is probably one of the main reasons why the Canucks got into the playoffs. Luongo is a proven regular season performer. Having said all that, if this is the extent of his accolades when it’s all said and done, his name will be just a large footnote in Canucks’ history. Consider this for a moment. While Bobby Lou already holds many team records, one that he doesn’t is career playoff wins which currently stands at eleven. The record still belongs to Kirk McLean with thirty-two wins, who garnered fifteen alone in the spring of 1994 (oh man, keep it together Erwin).
Against the test of time, people care less about what a player did in the regular season. In the end, players are easily remembered by their playoff performances. If I mention “The Save” and Roberto Luongo in the same sentence no one knows what the hell I’m talking about. If I mention “The Save” and Kirk McLean, everyone and their Robert Reichel knows what I’m talking about. McLean managed to win fifteen games in one single playoff season, putting on playoff performances that have yet to be matched by any other Canuck goaltender. Yeah, you read that right.
So this is for all those young Canucks fans (and fans with short memories) who weren’t even aware that the team had goalies before they signed Luongo. It’s dumb for you to say “zomg! like luongo is the best goalie evar!” Kirk McLean remains the best goaltender to play for the Vancouver Canucks. If you want proof, please watch the video below which I know I have linked to before. For you youngins who want context, this is from game one of the Stanley Cup Finals, not round one against a bottom feeder team, not round two either, it’s the Finals. This is from 1994 where McLean was spectacular stopping 52 shots when some stupid Canuck fans were barely an uncomfortable twitch in their father’s testicles.
Behold, a demonstration of how the best Canuck goalie did it.