Tag: game previews

Mark Recchi, Maxim Lapierre

Vancouver Canucks bristle at ‘villain’ title


While some outlets have hammered on the storyline a bit more than others, it seems like the consensus is that the Vancouver Canucks are the “bad guys” of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. (At least for people who enjoy the practice of adopting villains and heroes for sporting events in this age.)

That’s not to say that the Boston Bruins are being fitted for a halo anytime soon. Tim Thomas’ great play generates comparisons to the work of Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy, but his unfiltered rage also reminded some of the fury of Billy Smith or Ron Hextall. Brad Marchand has the tendency to get under peoples’ skin and the team occasionally earns back its historical nickname of the “Big, Bad Bruins.” (See: their brawl-filled regular season game against the smallish Montreal Canadiens.)

All of that aside, the conventional wisdom is that the Canucks aren’t exactly the darling of unbiased observers. Antics highlighted by Aaron Rome’s hit and Alexandre Burrows bite – not to mention the claims of diving, which may or may not be fair in the grand scheme of things – haven’t made Vancouver an adopted favorite among many fans.

The Canucks seem to bristle at the claims of villainy, as Joe Haggerty explains.

“I don’t think we’re in the villain role. I really don’t,” said Bieksa. “There are a few people that don’t like the way we play, but usually when you win people don’t like that. I know when we played Chicago last year I don’t remember too many people saying anything nice about them – but I’m pretty sure if you asked them they couldn’t care less.

“We don’t feel like villains. We feel like we have all of Canada cheering for us and that’s an entire country. So how can you be a villain when a whole country is cheering for you?”

It might be a stretch to say that all of Canada is rooting for the Canucks – one can assume that fans of division rivals such as the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames might be reluctant to cross that line – but it’s reasonable to think that many Canadians are pulling for them. It’s been 18 years since Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens became the last Canadian-based team to win a Stanley Cup, although the chalice obviously spends plenty of time north of the border either way.

However the rest of the hockey world feels, a Canucks Cup win would make them heroes in Vancouver and the surrounding areas. Something tells me they care a lot more about that designation than any media-fueled “villain” labels.

Your Boston Bruins-Vancouver Canucks 2011 Stanley Cup Finals Game 5 primer

Green Men

When the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks left Vancouver for Boston in that lengthy flight, it seemed like the Canucks might be primed to take control of the series even though they barely earned their wins. That concept didn’t hold for very long, though, as the Bruins rode the anger and inspiration that came from watching their big goal scorer carted off on a stretcher to turn around this series in a jarringly demonstrative way.

Now the Canucks hope to get their acts back together – and the series lead with it – back in the friendly confines of Rogers Arena. Of course, that venue won’t be a very friendly place to Roberto Luongo if he flops for a third straight game. (If he does start as Alain Vigneault claimed, that is).

Boston @ Vancouver (NBC) – 8 p.m. ET; Series tied 2-2

The only lineup change of note is another shuffling of Vancouver’s defensive sets, as raw rookie Chris Tanev will take Keith Ballard’s place as Ballard coughed up a disturbing array of turnovers. As much as Luongo is (rightly) blamed for letting in some softies and falling apart, the Canucks’ defense hasn’t exactly been rock solid, either.

The Bruins harnessed the negative energy from being down 2-0 and being without Nathan Horton to crush Vancouver at home, but can they duplicate that success on the road? We’ll see soon enough.

For more on this pivotal Game 5, check out this bevy of PHT content.

Vancouver defense continues its disconcerting shuffles as Chris Tanev replaces Keith Ballard

Dan Hamhuis, Troy Brouwer, Roberto Luongo

While Roberto Luongo’s struggles are well-documented, there is a more disturbing reality brimming underneath the surface for the Vancouver Canucks. After rolling with injury-related punches to their defensive corps time and time again during the regular season, it seems like Vancouver’s D is finally stumbling from repeated postseason body blows.

The hope was that handsomely paid seventh defenseman Keith Ballard would be able to save the day or at least stop the bleeding. Instead, the hip checking maestro was a turnover machine (and not delicious apple turnovers either, sadly).

If you wanted any more proof that Canucks coach Alain Vigneault doesn’t trust Ballard in the playoffs, today’s lineup note will drive that point home. Unproven rookie Chris Taven will take his place in the lineup for Game 5, according to Darren Dreger.

This basically breaks the Canucks defense down to: Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Sami Salo, Christian Ehrhoff, Andrew Alberts and Tanev. When remotely healthy, the strength of Vancouver’s defense was that there wasn’t a particularly rotten apple in the bunch. The sum was greater than their individual parts. Now their defense seems like a “Sum of All Fears” for especially distraught Canucks fans.

Things seem downright dire on D now with crucial defensive defenseman Dan Hamhuis injured and marginal (yet Vigneault-approved?) blueliner Aaron Rome suspended for the finals plus the many semi-documented injuries to active defensemen. The Bruins were able to exploit matchup problems thanks to the last change in Boston, but maybe the Canucks can survive by masking their deficiencies in Vancouver.

Going into this series, it seemed like the Canucks were the obvious favorites. Yet with Ryan Kesler seemingly banged up, the Sedin twins often bottled up by Boston, Luongo faltering and their defense in shambles, it’s tough to deny the notion that the Bruins are the more stable group. We’ll see if the Canucks can get things back together, but they’ll have to overcome their own makeshift defense and some troubling issues to do so.

Head games: While Luongo’s psyche is in question, is Thomas in Canucks’ heads?

Tim Thomas

One thing that traditional writers love (and stats-leaning bloggers often despise) is the concept of the “mental game” in sports. While it seems like a lot of people grossly exaggerate ideas like “choking” and “being rattled,” the undeniable fact is that human beings are involved. (Yes, even the seemingly robotic Sedin twins count in that category.)

Sometimes that brings about the most fragile of human emotions, factors that are seemingly playing a big part in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.

It’s tough to deny the pivotal moment of motivation that came for the Boston Bruins after that ugly Aaron Rome hit on Nathan Horton, whether that motivation was manifested in sheer anger, bold inspiration or a combination of the two.

After being outscored 12-1 in those two mind-blowing beat-downs in Beantown, it’s reasonable to wonder about the collective psyche of the Presidents Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks too. The questions naturally begin with their probable Game 5 starter Roberto Luongo. Some goalies have the mindset to shake off every mistake as if they never happened, but Luongo occasionally falls into a habit of letting a soft goal or two to derail him like a train in a middling popcorn movie.

Justin Goldman captured Luongo’s seemingly frail psyche in his NHL.com column.

From the drop of the puck, I could see Luongo’s body language was off. His legs looked heavy. Instead of exuding confidence, he appeared passive and complacent. It was not an easy start to Game 4 for either goaltender though, as choppy plays and missed chances forced both goalies to battle hard to track the puck and stay square.


On Peverley’s goal, Luongo proved that solid technique is an extension of solid confidence. Without the poise and patience of a confident goalie, Luongo’s technique appeared flawed. A strong mind is the source of a strong save.

In a game where there’s simply no time to appear fragile, Luongo relinquished three more goals that proved he was not alert or attentive enough to bounce back. This is where things went wrong for Vancouver’s leader — he simply failed to play with the confidence he had in Games 1 and 2.

While Luongo’s miserable play inspires all kind of questions from Vancouver fans – and plenty of confidence for Boston shooters – the opposite is true of Tim Thomas vs. the Canucks. Thomas allowed just one goal in two games at home after being mostly stout in Vancouver (he only allowed five goals in the first four games of this series). Even in defeat, Thomas has been a tough nut to crack, inspiring many to wonder if the highlight reel machine of a goalie is in the Canucks’ heads.

Naturally, they denied the idea.

“Not at all,” Daniel Sedin said when he was asked if Thomas is in the Canucks’ heads. “There are a few games left. There is nothing like that going on. We have to find a way to solve him. He’s not in our heads, but we have to find a way to solve him.”

To some extent, I believe Sedin for a simple reason: I don’t think expectations or opposing goalies do much to alter the Sedin twins’ style. For better or worse, Henrik Sedin will almost always pass and the duo will almost always create nice scoring chances. The key is for Daniel Sedin to get to the slot and for the two (along with Alexandre Burrows) to penetrate the defense rather instead of floating on the perimeter. They managed to have their way against the San Jose Sharks, but tighter checking defenses have given them fits with discouraging frequency throughout the playoffs.

Maybe Thomas isn’t in Vancouver’s heads, but could the bruising, opportunistic Bruins be as a whole?

Whether they win or lose this series, we’ve already seen that Boston will roll with the punches. Despite overcoming serious challenges already, the Canucks are once again placed in a situation where their toughness is in question. We’ll learn a lot about Luongo and this Vancouver team as this series boils down to a best-of-three. It doesn’t take a strong mind to figure that one out.

Boston Bruins hope to retain momentum, tie series with villainous Vancouver Canucks

Derrick Leger

If unbiased fans were sitting on the fence going into Game 3, it’s likely that the Aaron Rome late hit on Nathan Horton might have pushed them in one direction. Forgive the generalization, but it might be safe to say that the Vancouver Canucks will be seen as the villains while the Boston Bruins are likely the heroes by default going forward.

Of course, Game 4 could bring about all kinds of ugly situations from both teams that might swing things the other way. The word is that Canucks fans might be advised not to wear their team colors in Boston, although Milan Lucic thinks that ugly fan backlash is a two-way street. This series started off pretty rough for two teams that didn’t know each other particularly well, but the vitriol level is rising with each game.

Vancouver @ Boston (Versus) – 8 p.m. ET; Canucks lead series 2-1

It’s a good thing for Vancouver that cumulative scoring means nothing in the NHL playoffs. After winning two heart-stopping one-goal games at home, they were unceremoniously throttled 8-1 in Boston on Monday. Maybe it’s merely circumstantial, but it seems like the Canucks don’t play as well when the stakes are much lower for them than their opponents. (They were pretty lucky to beat San Jose in Game 5, too.)

With all the positive momentum for Boston, the brutal truth is that they still need to win Game 4 to really be “in” this series. They’ve been a scrappy bunch all playoffs long, but winning three out of four games against Vancouver might be their biggest test yet.

Let’s take a look at some of the best PHT content going into tonight’s game, then.