After an abysmal 8-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings Thursday night, the Vancouver Canucks left California early Saturday morning with some pride still intact.
The California swing was just that – Two games in two nights, both with large polarities in style, composition and execution. Thursday night in Los Angeles the Canucks fell into the old rut of getting down in the contest early. But unlike other fortuitous comeback games, they never recovered from the sloppy, unmotivated start. Darcy Hordichuk, no matter how well-intentioned, added to their grief by taking a goaltender interference penalty and another subsequent minor, the 4-0 powerplay goal all but sealed their fate.
On Team 1040 radio post-game Thursday night, many of the call-ins slagged Roberto Luongo in the loss, questioning his captaincy role. Luongo certainly didn’t help his case with a brief 10 second interview before walking away, but that kind of game happens to all clubs. It’s happened to the Red Wings, the Sharks, the Penguins; sometimes events snowball in the course of a game, and the best laid plans go for naught. To hang the loss solely on Luongo’s shoulders is absurd. This sport is all about team play, and the L.A. Kings would be the first to agree with that statement. In 1992/93, they had arguably the best player in the game, but still came up short of a championship (to the Cup winning Montreal Canadiens).
If you were to ask any of Michael Grabner’s teammates, they would tell you “The system owed him”. A lot of players will say that when they’ve had numerous chances to score, but somehow remain snake-bit for goals. Alain Vigneault hasn’t had a lot of choice in the matter because of injuries, but he stuck with the Austrian speedster, and his pairing with Ryan Kesler. Pavol Demitra replaced Mason Raymond on the line, with positive results. Kesler was in on all 3 of Grabner’s goals, and the line was the Canucks best in Anaheim.
“I’m from a small town (Villach),” said the 22 year old Grabner. “Word spreads pretty quickly there. My mom and dad usually watch the games on TV about three or four in the morning. Then my dad goes to work and tells everyone.”
The Ducks made the Canucks pay for taking penalties, particularly the ‘Finnish Flash’, Teemu Selanne. He is, in my humble opinion, the best forward in the game on the powerplay. His surgically precise hands deftly tipped a hard slap-pass off Andrew Raycroft’s right pad. Fellow Finn Saku Koivu was the first one over to congratulate him on the milestone. He surpassed childhood idol Jari Kurri, and is now the 11th all-time NHL goalscoring leader. To give you an idea of the company he keeps, Mario Lemieux is #10 with 690.
The Canucks entered the third period down 3-2, but completed the comeback in the shootout. Kyle Wellwood and Pavol Demitra both went top shelf on Curtis Mcelhinneys glove side, but it was Andrew Raycroft’s stop Teemu Selanne that was the highlight. Selanne feined forehand to backhand, then cut hard to Raycroft’s gloveside. He nearly shot it low inside the post, but Raycroft never gave up, barely getting his glove arm in front of the puck, body sliding along the ice.
“We needed to come up with a better game and we did,” said Vigneault. “It was fun to see Grabner come out and have the kind of game he had tonight… We’ve got a checkmark beside our name [playoff clinch]… And now we’re going to try to close in on the division [title].” That effort continues Sunday against Minnesota, as the Canucks aim for their 300th consecutive sell-out at GM Place in Vancouver.