So what does a guy do when his Vancouver Canucks’ team is down to its last chance in the playoff series?
Rely heavily on clichés, in the approved Ryan Kesler method?
Or go on the offensive, the way defenceman Kevin Bieksa did on a Monday afternoon, in the hallway outside the Canucks dressing room at HP Pavilion, where his team held an optional skate?
Bieksa stood there, perched on a stick, and in a deliberated and calculated way, ripped into the two of the most prominent San Jose Sharks’ players, centres Logan Couture and Joe Thornton. Two “so-called Canadians” is how Bieksa described them, before criticizing both for embellishing infractions that led to three power-play goals and an easy 5-2 Sharks win on Sunday night.
“Those are two Canadian guys who are supposed to play the game with integrity,” began Bieksa.
“Thornton … he gets slashed, he takes his glove off sand shakes his hand. The ref takes a couple of seconds to look at that and makes a call. That’s a critical time in the game when we go down two men.
“Couture has been snapping his head back. This isn’t my opinion. The evidence is in the video. Hank [Henrik Sedin] touches him off the faceoff, he does a full back arch and his glove goes flying off in the corner from getting this.”
Here, Bieksa helpfully demonstrated the play in question, using his own stick as a prop. “This,” he said, poking himself under the chin, “doesn’t make your glove come off – or arch your back.”
Now the irony of all this is delicious on many levels, beginning with the fact that the Canucks have a far-ranging reputation around the NHL for their own willingness to embellish calls in the past. Among the primary culprits: Max Lapierre, Kesler, occasionally the Sedins and Alex Burrows, though not so much lately. It sounded a little like the pot calling the kettle black, doesn’t it?
“Whether or not you think we’re embellishers or not doesn’t take away the fact those two guys are doing it as well,” responded Bieksa. “So, forget about the past. Look at this series. I don’t feel like we’ve embellished calls, and we feel like it’s going the other way.
“The twins get hacked and slashed and whacked more than anyone. If they ever try to draw a penalty or embellish it, they’re called on it by everybody.
“There are two guys on the other team that are doing the exact same thing. Right now, they’re getting the calls and they’re making it tough on the officials.”
This just kept getting better and better as Bieksa gathered steam. Next, he carefully exonerated the officials from any blame, noting: “These are tough calls to make, because they’re not sure on the extent of the damage. They’re not sure if they really get them on the wrist with the slash.
“It’s not the official’s problem. This is about playing the game with integrity and not trying to do whatever you can to draw a power play.”
Misdirection, of course, is a popular and timeless ploy with any team on the ropes in an NHL playoff series. It is unclear what Bieksa hoped to accomplish with his tirade – which, by the way, he ran past a small group of reporters and then repeated for the television viewing audience a few minutes later once the cameras wrapped it up over at the Kesler scrum.
There was nothing spontaneous about it, in other words. He was delivering a message and repeated the key words “integrity” and “Canadians” enough times just to make sure that every dimwit in the audience was writing this down.
Maybe he’ll get the referees paying more attention. Maybe he’s made himself a target for the Sharks – in the hopes that the Canucks can the benefit of a few calls and win a game on the power play. That was more or less the thrust of coach Alain Vigneault’s muted message Tuesday – that a little more goal-scoring would go a long way towards getting a single win under their collective belts in Game 4, which set for Tuesday night, and where Bieksa vowed they would not go down without a fight.
“I don’t think there’s one guy who can say he’s bringing his best right now,” said Bieksa. “That being said, we still feel like we can beat this team four games in a row. It’s a matter of staying out of the box.
“Five-on-five we feel like we’re the better team. We obviously have to prove it, but we’re still confident in ourselves.”
As for playing the game in the traditional Canadian way, Bieksa said there was a lesson to be learned from watching “the L.A.-St. Louis series, probably the hardest played series in the playoffs so far. There are guys taking runs at other guys, taking their heads off. I haven’t seen one guy embellish or one guy trying to draw a penalty. That’s hard-nosed hockey.
“Absolutely, we have to be more disciplined and the after-the-whistle stuff, we just can’t have that anymore. We have to have learned our lesson. This is a good power play. They’re getting lots of chances, they’re making plays. We can’t give them more opportunities. We have to make them earn their chances. The onus is on us to be more disciplined.”
One more loss and there’s a good chance that an era could come to a close for the Canucks, with changes surely in the works for this summer, if they’re out in the first round in back-to-back years. But those are big-picture, long-term thoughts and according to Bieksa, not a concern right now.
“We’re in a position where we’ve used all three lifelines and have none left,” said Bieksa. “We’re going to have to win the next one – and start there.”