It wasn’t pretty, but the Vancouver Canucks clinched the Northwest Division title with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night, winning in unnecessarily dramatic fashion.
The 300th consecutive sell out crowd at GM Place was in full celebration after Alex Edler’s empty net goal put the Canucks up 3-1; however the quick striking Wild had plans to crash the party. Cody Almond and Anti Miettinen scored 23 seconds apart in the last minute of the 3rd, tying the game up for the Wild and shocking the remaining Canuck faithful who believed the home team’s 3-1 victory had been sealed.
The shock of the terrible collapse failed to faze the Canucks, they had locked up another Northwest Division title with the guaranteed point, a feat that couldn’t be overshadowed by a pair of simple late game mistakes.
The Canucks dominated the overtime period, seemingly driven to treat the crowd to a proper victory, refusing to “back in” to the division title. The Canucks dominated the opening minutes of the extra frame forcing Greg Zanon to take a high sticking minor just 1:28 into OT. Under a minute later on the power play, Sami Salo ripped the point shot past Nicklas Backstrom.
While the point will likely mean little in the Canucks playoff positioning, the extra effort given by the Canucks in OT really showed that they really can turn it up an extra gear when necessary, especially late in games. That being said, the 3rd period collapse must be an appropriate lesson learned for the Canucks, they cannot afford to let teams back into games late like they did against the Wild last night. Playoff calibre teams in a momentum driven seven game series will not be likely to give up momentum like the Wild did last night, a two goal lead is never safe in today’s NHL.
All in all, the Canucks dominated the Wild last night. The 39-27 shot total tells the real story, as the Canucks continually forced Nicklas Backstrom to make save after save, allowing for the Wild to hang around in the game, waiting until the 59 minute to strike and tie the game. The Canucks’ inability to score five on five became the recurring theme, forcing the special teams’ unit of the Canucks to step up and provide offence, both with the man advantage and while on the kill. Ryan Kesler’s shorthanded goal to open the game was a beauty.
I’m really not surprised that the play was built upon the extra hustle of Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler to beat the three Wild defenders through their zone, earning a short 2 on 1 that Burrows fed across perfectly to Kesler, knocking in his 24th of the year.
Burrows’ effort on the penalty kill this year has been phenomenal, he has seven shorthanded points, and five shorthanded goals this season, both stats lead the NHL. The Canucks ability to kill penalties as well as score the occasional shorty has been a bonus for the Canucks this year, don’t be surprised if a shorthanded goal from the Canucks drastically alters a series.
It was a busy weekend not only for the Canucks, but also for yours truly as term papers and exams begin to crop up into a student’s schedule. Toss in an intramural championship game or two, and it was a busy weekend for both athletes and writers. With that in mind, excuse me for the lack of weekend coverage, production from my end will only increase here onward.
The Canucks two game road swing through California was a trip to forget for most of the Canucks, an 8-3 loss to the LA Kings that opened the back-to-back games was one of the worst games from the Canucks all year. Christian Ehrhoff’s +2 rating was one of the few bright spots of the game, as well as Kyle Wellwood’s two goals, even if he would have been better off to save them for another game the Canucks were capable of winning.
The next night, the Canucks were immediately back to work as they took on the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center. Usually back to back games are one of my issues with NHL scheduling, however after a game like Thursday’s against the Kings, there couldn’t be much better for a team than getting right back onto the ice and redeeming themselves for the previous night’s game.
Michael Grabner couldn’t agree more. After firing away at several solid scoring opportunities against the Kings, Grabner took full advantage of the quick second game, recapturing the speed and tenacity he found in LA, and bringing it with him down the road to Anaheim. Grabner broke out of his goal-less streak since returning to the Canucks by firing a hat trick past Curtis McElhinney.
While McElhinney isn’t a proven NHL starter, Grabner made McElhinney look like the rookie in this one, seemingly stunned by the speed and accuracy of Graber’s shooting Friday night. The finishing touch found in Anaheim will give Grabner loads of confidence moving forward, he has been making the right plays and creating opportunities since his return to the NHL, his scoring touch was simply the last aspect of his game to get up to NHL speed.
Another major highlight of the Canucks 5-4 shootout win over the Ducks was Darcy Hordichuk and George Parros’ addition to the vault of great heavyweight tilts they have displayed over the years.
While the side stories get most of the attention after the fact, the Canucks were still able to ice a solid hockey game against the Ducks after being worked by the Kings the night earlier. Give the Canucks credit for rebounding from one of their worst of the season by responding with a gritty game that even took extra time (A team’s worst enemy on the second leg of a back to back) to get the two points. Even the shootout provided a highlight for the Canucks; Andrew Raycroft’s save on Teemu Selanne at 5:45 of the video is simply amazing. Luongo-esque I dare say.
Here are Hordichuk, Grabner, Raycroft and other highlights against the Ducks on Friday.
The Canucks move on to host the Colorado Avalanche at home, 7:00 PM at the Garage. Looking at the two teams in the Western Conference standings, the Canucks seem to be stuck in the “3” slot no matter how they finish the regular season, however the Av’s are looking to lock up the 8th and final playoff spot, holding off the Calgary Flames. Expect the Canucks to begin moving players around, potentially giving starters a rest here and there over the last week in order to have everyone rested and ready to start the playoffs.
News, Notes and Injuries
- Christian Ehrhoff left Sunday’s game against the Wild with a knee injury; he has swelling in his knee which generally takes 7-10 days.
- Ryan Johnson blocked another shot with his foot Sunday, and will be out with a broken foot. Jason Botchford sums it up best regarding Johnson with this Tweet “With another broken foot, Ryan Johnson should note a def’n of insanity is continuing to do the same things, but expecting different results”
- Shane O’Brien and Nolan Baumgartner will both get at least a game before the regular season ends in order to have them battle ready for playoffs.
- Matt Pettinger has been called up in order to chew up some of the penalty kill minutes Ryan Johnson makes his living on.
- Where are you Willie Mitchell? In other words, no report on his progress so far.
Filed Under: Vancouver Canucks
About the Author: Kevin Vanstone is a long time sports fan and Canucks die hard from White Rock, British Columbia. He is currently attending the University of Victoria pursuing a Writing degree, and in his spare time writes about all things Canucks hockey as well as news and notes from around the NHL.