Canucks in desperate need of strength on the blue-line
Caution: sarcasm. This hockey columnist is coming to terms with a frustrating Canucks loss that resulted in the Chicago Blackhawks taking the lead in the Western Conference semi-final.
Kevin Bieksa, a Canucks defenseman, had another great game in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He logged more than 20 minutes ice-time and contributed to the Blackhawks' win almost every shift, including their opening goal of the game which gave the Hawks some life after a great start by Vancouver. Bieksa’s ability to pass the puck with precision and accuracy onto the sticks of his opponents was instrumental in the Hawks' 5 - 2 victory over the Canucks Wednesday night at GM Place.
He was a difference maker, that’s for sure, and this is how I'm starting to think he'd be better dressed:
The unexpected but devastating duo of Bieksa and Chicago power forward Dustin Byfuglien caused huge problems in front of Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo. They combined for four goals and a number of turnovers, which resulted in more offensive chances for the Blackhawks. Byfuglien finished the night with a hat-trick, was named the first star of the game and was a massive presence throughout the game.
The most frustrating thing about Byfuglien and the constant traffic around Luongo is that Chicago has made no secret that it’s a deliberate part of their game plan. And yet, no Canuck seems able to combat the strategy.
The Globe and Mail labelled Byfuglien “monstrous” and the Hawks’ winger said the Canucks weren’t able to contain him once he’s stationed near Luongo’s crease. “It’s my job to get position and make them work around me,” the Globe reported yesterday. “They got to worry about me coming and worry about getting hit.”
It seems to me that a more proactive defence would benefit Vancouver, and getting a body on the opposing player might be a smart strategy. Even a guy the size of Byfuglien (who is 6’4 and 260 lbs) shouldn’t be permitted such an easy path to the net.
The Canucks’ captain and netminder stopped 30 shots—he was good but not great—and at least one Chicago goal came from a rebound that he should have absorbed. The Hawks kept traffic in front of Luongo all night and it clearly affected his ability to see the puck, hence the rebounds. Regardless, Luongo has to be better if the Canucks expect to down Chicago and move on to the Western Conference Final.
Luongo wasn’t the only Canuck affected by Byfuglien’s play. The Blackhawk was on the ice for nearly 16 minutes, notched six shots on goal and was involved in a scrum after the whistle on almost every shift. Vancouver claimed they weren’t going to get involved in any post-whistle melee, but to Chicago’s credit, the visiting team got under the skin of their opponents, taking the Canucks off their game and egging them into skirmishes. Even Daniel Sedin got nasty with David Bolland late in the first and their trash-talking continued from the penalty box. This isn't something Canucks fans are used to seeing from the veteran but he was clearly frustrated with his inability to capitalize earlier in the period. Regardless, the twins need to make more of an appearance in game four. And they know it.
Vancouver had plenty of chances to get on the board first. They were buzzing around the Chicago end early and often, but were unable to finish their chances and get anything behind a solid-looking Antti Niemi. Niemi finished with 33 saves but looked better than he actually was since the Canucks didn’t provide much traffic in front of the net.
Vancouver’s first goal came from Alex Burrows, who burried a wrist-shot past Niemi in the final minute of the second period to get Vancouver within a goal heading into the final frame. Burrows ended his slump—since getting an empty-netter against L.A., he hadn’t scored since March 30—but, for the second straight game the Canucks failed to play with any desperation in the third period and were outplayed and outscored. Chicago scored twice in the final period to ice the game with a final score of 5 – 2 and take the 2 – 1 lead in the series.
Looking ahead to game four:
Chicago bullied Vancouver through most of the third game and continued to initiate the physical play in the series. The Canucks have to step up their physicality and set the tone early.
I never thought I’d say this, but maybe Alain Vigneault should insert Darcy Hordichuck or Tanner Glass into the line-up in order to display some toughness and grittiness. Vancouver is far too easy of a team to play against right now, and without some kind of adjustment, this series could be done in five games.
Another key to winning game four is to contain Kevin Bieksa at all costs. He is an absolute Canuck killer, and I’m worried he could be the Blackhawks Most Valuable Player.
In honour of the Canucks defenseman, who may as well lace up and dress for the Chicago Blackhawks, we’ve made-up a drinking game. Enjoy—but only if you don’t have to work in the morning.
Kevin Bieksa Drinking Game
A careless turnover in his own zone: 1 drink
A bad pinch into the opponent’s end, resulting in an odd-man rush against the Canucks: 2 drinks
Lost man coverage in his own zone, resulting in a scoring chance for the opponent: 3 drinks
A point shot that doesn’t get through to the net: 4 drinks
An assist on an opponent’s goal: 5 drinks
A goal in his own net: 10 drinks
Warning: Do not play for more than one (1) period of a single Canucks game, as overconsumption of alcohol can result in serious health risks.
Watch game highlights here.