There are two sides to Alex Burrows, the Vancouver Canucks’ superpest and primary Sedin sidekick, one who conjures images of kindly Dr. Jekyll, the other of nasty old Mr. Hyde.
Or, as they like to say in these parts, there is Good Alex and then there is Bad Alex
Good Alex is the player who made the Manitoba Moose essentially as a walk-on, with virtually no NHL prospects, and played himself onto the first line of the top team in the league by sheer dint of hard work and unrelenting feistiness. Good Alex was the diamond in the rough, a ball hockey star, a proud alumnus of the Greenville Grrrowl who evolved into a finisher, an agitator, a corner man, and a top-six forward who acts as a perfect foil for the talented Sedin twins.
Bad Alex is that other guy, the player who embellishes contact to draw penalties, who gets into spats with referees (such as last year’s celebrated incident with Stephane Auger), and who might even pull hair in a fight (see Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks, circa 2008-09, an incident that set in motion the rivalry between the two teams).
This year, there have been far more sightings of Good Alex than Bad Alex, as the 30-year-old gets further and further away from his modest ECHL roots. Overall, Burrows did perhaps his best job of straddling the fine line that every energy player must walk – between helping his team with a timely goal or play, and hurting them with an undisciplined outburst or an unnecessary penalty.
But the nature of Burrows’s personality is such that Bad Alex can occasionally bubble to the surface, as he did in the opener of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday night against the Boston Bruins. Bad Alex took four of the Canucks’ seven minor penalties, including the double minor assessed at the end of the opening period for a chomp on Patrice Bergeron’s finger.
It was a play reminiscent of the NHL’s most notorious biter, Claude Lemieux, on Jim Peplinski in the days when the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames played for the Stanley Cup a quarter of a century ago.
As with that infamous exchange, nothing much happened in terms of supplementary discipline. Mike Murphy, acting as the NHL’s chief disciplinarian in this series, reviewed the play and ruled Thursday morning that he could find no conclusive evidence that Burrows “intentionally” bit Bergeron on the finger, a break for the Canucks because it means their No. 1 line remains intact for Game 2 of the series Saturday night.
Burrows wasn’t talking Thursday, so reporters tried to get Canucks coach Alain Vigneault going on him. Vigneault and Burrows go all the way back to their Manitoba Moose days, but apart from extolling Burrows’s virtues as a self-made man, Vigneault wasn’t biting on any of the other queries that came his way. About as far as Vigneault would go in analyzing Burrows’s play was to say: “He took one penalty in the offensive zone where he grabbed a guy that he could do without, but I didn’t agree with the one on [Tim] Thomas. Then there was a scrum where 10 guys started pushing and he got four minutes.”
Daniel Sedin was happy enough with the league decision, however, noting: “We need him out there. He’s a big part of this team.” Brother Henrik then explained why: “He’s good on the fore-check. He turns a lot of pucks over for us. He knows where to go. He finds those spots where he can get shots away. He’s done a great job for us. We’re excited to play with him.”
Henrik didn’t say it, but there is little doubt that Burrows saved the Canucks’ season earlier in these playoffs and he did it almost single-handedly. With the Canucks’ playoff lives on the line in overtime of Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks, Burrows picked off an errant Chris Campoli pass and buried an unassisted goal past Corey Crawford that vaulted Vancouver into the second round. The goal provided the Canucks with a huge psychological boost and they have been a different team ever since, playing far closer to their potential than during the nervous moments of Games 4, 5 and 6 in that opening series.
With concerts by Supertramp and Bruno Mars scheduled for the Rogers Arena Thursday and Friday, the Canucks and Bruins were exiled to the UBC Thunderbirds Arena for practice Thursday and Friday. The teams have another longish breather here to ponder a handful of variables in the series after Vancouver’s 1-0 win in the opener – the ineffective power plays, the stellar goaltending, and how the stars on either side mostly cancelled each other out.
In the meantime, it looked as if Burrows got Bad Alex out of his system on a good night, when the Canucks won because of a 36-save shutout from Roberto Luongo plus a goal from the third line.
The hope is that only Good Alex shows up the rest of the way, because based on the way these playoffs have gone, they are going to need him.