Off The Post – Strange Canucks OT goal looked familiar

Off The Post – Strange Canucks OT goal looked familiar.

No one knew where the puck was, except for the guy who scored the overtime series winner.

That was the scenario that was played out on Tuesday night as Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa was the beneficiary of a lucky puck bounce off a stanchion. With everyone else on the ice including San Jose goalie Antti Niemi searching in vain for the elusive rubber disk, Bieksa ended the series in double overtime with shot from the point, sending Rogers Arena into bedlam as the Canucks to their first Stanley Cup Final in 17 years.

It was a truly bizarre way to end a hotly contested series.

It was also reminiscent of last year’s Stanley Cup Final between Chicago and Philadelphia.

Few who watched the game will remember the collection of confused players on the ice, trying to find the puck in the Flyers zone. Only Patrick Kane, celebrating in ecstasy knew that he was successful in placing it passed Philadelphia netminder Michael Leighton, ending the Blackhawks’ championship drought.

Overtime goals aren’t always pretty, and in these two scenarios, the circumstances have made the outcome rather anti-climactic.

Of course, the mechanics don’t matter to the players, just the result.

Clearing the zone

Bieksa’s heroics were made possible large in part to Ryan Kesler’s opportunistic deflection with 13.1 seconds remaining in regulation time as Vancouver erased a one-goal deficit to tie the game. The preceding faceoff occurred in the Sharks zone after San Jose defenceman Dan Boyle blindly threw a clearing pass up the left boards from behind his own goal, resulting in an icing.

Yes, the icing was called incorrectly as replays showed that the puck glanced off Daniel Sedin before traveling the length of the ice. No, that does not excuse Boyle’s miscue.

Boyle should have at least surveyed all his options before panicking.

Perhaps the play was in the mind of Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman on Wednesday, when he was in the same scenario – his team protecting a one-goal lead with the opposing goalie pulled – and behind his own goal. Rather than rushing the play, Hedman stopped as he gained control of the shoot-in, and took however a brief instant he needed to make a decision. Only then did he shoot the puck up the left boards, but unlike Boyle’s attempt, his effort to clear the zone was successful. That’s why the Eastern Conference Final is heading back to Boston.

Often, the key plays that don’t factor on the scoresheet are the difference between staying alive in the playoffs and booking your tee times on the golf course.

Special teams are the difference

Despite Boyle’s ill-advised icing and Kesler’s and Bieksa’s timely goals, the Western Conference Final wasn’t decided on those plays. Special teams was the difference maker, particularly in Games 4 and 5.

Recall the Sharks inability to capitalize on their power-play opportunities in Game 4. Conversely, when the Canucks were awarded three 5-on-3’s, they wasted little effort, scoring three power-play goals in a playoff game for the first time in franchise history.

Going back to Vancouver, the Sharks were awarded a lengthy 5-on-3 in Game 5. Had they been able to take advantage, perhaps they would have had a more comfortable lead to try and protect.

I Was Born In a Smalltown

It has been a productive nine days for the town of Grimsby, Ontario – birthplace of Bieksa, whose series winner has sent Vancouver into a frenzy. A week ago Sunday another Grimsby native, Jarrod Maidens, scored in overtime in Game 7 of the OHL Final to lift the Owen Sound Attack past the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors for the league title.

At the Memorial Cup, Owen Sound plays Kootenay in a tiebreaker on Thursday, with the winner playing Mississauga in Friday’s semi-final. The semi-final winner faces Saint John in Sunday’s final.

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It? Canadian hockey fans Feel Fine

This past Saturday had been forecast as the day of the Rapture by a few theologians.

Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson must have thought that the world had ended over a week earlier after Russia eliminated Canada in the quarter-finals of the 2011 World Championship.

With the maple leaf crested squad having finished off the podium for a second consecutive year, Nicholson labeled the defeat as “totally unacceptable”, while calling out a few young players who turned down the invitation to play in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Understandably, Nicholson’s reaction stems from having to establish, and maintain, the highest standards of excellence as expected by his employers, and his country.

However to discredit the performance of a team that won 6 of its 7 tournament games, only to have the misfortune of drawing a strong Russian team in the quarter-finals, is to react with the same hyperbolic exaggeration as the doomsday pessimists who recently predicted Armageddon.

The World Championship has never been a priority for teams that play on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean.

For as long as the annual tournament’s has conflicted with the NHL’s playoffs, the showcase has not been about “best vs. best”, but rather “best of who’s available vs. best of who’s available.”

While the European nations embrace the series as if it were a competition for the Stanley Cup, the populations of both Canada and the United States react to the tournament with relative indifference.

As far as Canadians are concerned, the World Championship ranks on a far lower tier than the Olympics, Canada/World Cup and World Junior Hockey Championship, in terms of international hockey interest. The immense pride taken in victory, such as the most recent one earned in 2007, is felt for a few fleeting seconds before the TV remote controls are clicked in all ten provinces to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs. The muted reaction is in stark contrast to the celebration of mobs of flag-waving people in the streets as when Sidney Crosby scored the Olympic gold medal-winning goal in Vancouver.

If a North American team isn’t in the World Championship gold medal game, broadcasters on this side of the pond shuffle their schedules faster than Alex Ovechkin’s slap shot. In Canada, TSN was contracted to show the gold medal game between Sweden and Finland, but deferred the telecast by a few hours in place of live coverage of the National Lacrosse League championship game.

In the U.S., it was Versus who chose to delay the broadcast, not airing Finland’s 6-1 victory until over 24 hours after the game was over.

On this side of the pond, arguably the most memorable moment from the 2011 world tournament was of Finnish player Mikael Granlund’s lacrosse-style scoop goal from behind the net against Russia. Everything else was overshadowed by what was happening in Vancouver, San Jose, Tampa Bay, and Boston.

Nicholson is expected to say that Canada’s result was unacceptable. Likewise, any player who takes pride in suiting up for his or her country won’t accept losing.

However, for the average Canadian hockey fan whose attention is engrossed elsewhere at this time of year, acceptance of the result appears to be the norm.


Rob Del Mundo is the author of Blue And White Beat, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca

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