June 10, 2011
You'd be hard-pressed to find an avid hockey fan outside of Massachusetts who'd describe the Boston Bruins' style of hockey as "pretty." And that's no disrespect to the men in black and gold. Boston fans tend to love this style of team — they've got that underdog attitude and get it done with hard work and grit. This team represents their city as well or better than any of their other sports teams.
The Vancouver Canucks, when not playing like those balloon punching bags with sand in the bottom as they did in Boston, tend to create their offense in a more highlight-reel friendly fashion. At their best, the Sedins make the game look almost elegant, and the team's wealth of skilled defenseman are able to quickly transition their forwards to create a flashier brand of play.
If Vancouver is going to have any hope of winning this series, they have to rediscover that identity.
They've been trying, and failing, to play Boston's game so far.
It's something coaches preach when things aren't going as planned — "we want to play our game," "we want to dictate the style of play." It sounds like general advice, but sticking to your team identity is relatively important when you've spent the past two games getting curb-stomped in every conceivable category. The Canucks look rattled — any time you're utterly infuriated it's a little difficult to focus on making a dainty backhand saucer pass.
Vancouver seems to have forgotten (and kudos to their opponent for getting them to this point) that you can still play physical without playing like a fool, and losing track of that starts with moron moves like biting a guy's finger. Call it karma, but that seemed to be where the Canucks started to switch their focus to the unimportant, petty side of hockey.
Having a pest on your team is effective at times, but it often throws off your own squad as much as your opponent's. Thanks to that, Boston is smart to let Vancouver get caught up in the stuff Bruce Arthur detailed nicely today — biting, slewfoots, and slashes — as long as the Canucks don't turn their focus back to playing actual hockey.
In a sense, the Bruins have been executing a magician's illusion — a little sleight of hand here, a little distraction there, and while the Canucks are looking in the wrong direction, they're deftly slipping the series in their side pocket with the other hand.
They just deserve credit for getting a great team off their game. When you're playing the President's Trophy winner, you have to do something to keep them from getting too comfortable.
He's quick, chippy, and able to make his opponents go mental in a handful of different ways (including scoring). And still, he hasn't let the pressures of the Stanley Cup Final force him to try to be a player he's not. In the same way Marchand has stuck to his role so well, Vancouver has to find a way to get their best players to the same place.
The Canucks are at a crossroads, and it's time to find out what their leadership is made of, not just on the ice, but in the dressing room too. It's tough to get a team back on track with words, but great leaders find a way.
From what we're told, there's no lack of men who can help in that regard — Roberto Luongo(notes), Ryan Kesler(notes), Henrik and Daniel Sedin(notes), Manny Malhotra(notes) — all these guys are said to be worthy of wearing the "C" on just about any team in the NHL.
In light of that, it'd be baffling to see them squander an opportunity because of an inability to play the brand of hockey that brought them so much success leading up to this series.
The outcome of the Stanley Cup Final rests largely on the Canucks' ability to see the trap door in the magicians trick, and realize what's going on. Boston's been putting on a terrific performance, but it shouldn't be that hard to see.