It looked, at least for one night, like old times.
An at-times angry tilt between two great teams, the Vancouver Canucks and the visiting Chicago Blackhawks, two rivals with rivers of bad blood between them, a frozen-over river of Styx.
Several displays of Sedin-ery, from now-ageing Swedish twins. A difficult-to-beat netminder in the Vancouver goal. And a victory for the home team.
Even Zack Kassian scored. And, hey, so did Daniel Sedin. And a power-play goal opened the scoring.
All problems solved.
An exaggeration, obviously. At least, however, on Monday night in Vancouver, some worries were assuaged.
"It’s been a tough year, it’s been a grind,” said captain Henrik Sedin in the locker room after the win, black “Division Champions 2013” ball caps scattered among the lockers.
“This year, in this room, we know we have a good team. If we play like this, we’ve got as good of a team as anyone else.”
With a week before the postseason, the Canucks took down the Blackhawks, the best team in the NHL who were perhaps not always playing at full flight in a game that meant more to Vancouver than Chicago. Regardless, for Vancouver, it was an important showcase, not for their fans but for themselves, after a long listless period against mediocre teams.
This was a game where the Canucks showed themselves they can indeed play some impressive hockey. And even if Chicago wasn’t quite Chicago, it was the first time the ‘Hawks have lost in regulation in almost a month.
The final was 3-1 – and beyond the badly needed buoying nature of the win itself, the victory secured the Canucks’ fifth consecutive Northwest Division title.
And, sure, the Northwest has been, mostly, a laughing stock as the killer whales of Vancouver feasted on division rivals in recent years, but five in a row is still something. And as the one lamer divisions in the long history of hockey is retired – RIP 1998-2013 – Vancouver can claim the most division titles, with seven. (Colorado finished first five times, and Calgary and Minnesota both picked up one each.)
But division titles mean little, much like back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies. One has to wonder if Vancouver can put up the same show if the team, should it advance to the Western Conference final, faces Chicago in the playoffs. If, that is, the Blackhawks make it there, too, which about a million more people would be than those putting down money on the Canucks.
Still, for one night, Vancouver definitely impressed.
Goalie Cory Schneider was his usual top-form self. The depleted defence was far steadier than in recent weeks, including 20-year-old Frank Corrado, a 2011 fifth-round draft pick who made his NHL debut Monday after spending most of this winter playing major junior. And on the offensive end, which was as vacant as a vacuum last Saturday, there was fire.
As noted, the largely absent Kassian, on a pass from Daniel Sedin midway through the second, scored, marking Kassian’s second goal in the past 30 games. (The assist made Sedin the No. 2 scorer in Canucks history, behind his brother, Henrik, and surpassing Markus Naslund.)
More significant, there was some real pop from the largely absent, at least setting off red lights, Sedin. Late in the second, rushing up the ice, he took a beautiful bounce pass off the boards from his older brother from the Vancouver end, popping it off the boards near the centre line. Sedin was free on a breakaway.
Surging in on Corey Crawford, who played a solid game and kept his team in it during the first period, when Vancouver peppered Chicago, Sedin deked left, right, left – and on his backhand put it up and in. (It marked only his second in a dozen games.)
Crashing into the boards after tripping over Crawford, he also took an ungracious hack in the back from Duncan Keith, who viciously concussed Sedin 13 months ago.
“Well, I scored, right?” said Daniel in the locker room, smiling, of the Keith whack. The brothers are hardier than most people know and as Henrik said, such cracks are commonplace in springtime when it really counts. “That’s the way it is,” said Henrik, who on Monday night played his 627th consecutive game, the seventh-longest iron-man run in NHL history.
And over at the kid’s locker, Corrado, he was handed the official scorer’s sheet, and the game puck. The injured Chris Tanev, whose right foot is still in a walking boot, entered the room in a suit and shook the rookie’s hand, Tanev knowing what it’s like to come from nowhere into the fire. (And, Tanev, asked by a fan if he’d be back for the playoffs, he offered a positive yet vague, “Hopefully.”)
“Good nerves,” said Corrado of his feelings as he delivered a pretty top-notch game given that it was his first one. “Good nerves that make you push a little harder.”
Paired with Alex Edler, Corrado faced a lot of Chicago’s first line, led by potential MVP Jonathan Toews, and early on in the first demonstrated impressive physicality, delivering a jarring hit to Chicago’s Marcus Kruger near the corner of the Canucks zone, taking Kruger and an official into the boards – rousing a roar from the crowd.
And on the theme of all problems solved (or, at least, some worries assuaged), the Canucks, to open the scoring in the first period, cracked through on the power play, a Jason Garrison blast (an increasingly potent weapon) that deflected off the skate of Jannik Hansen, the dashing Dane’s first NHL power-play goal.
The once deader-than-dead power play – 11 games with no goals and ranked among the very worst in the NHL – is now 6-for-24 in the past seven games, producing at 25 per cent.
So, when it (kind of) mattered Monday, against a good-but-not-great Blackhawks squad, the Canucks delivered.
Next up, on Thursday, the No. 2-in-the-West-but-somewhat-fading Anaheim Ducks. The real test begins next week.
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