Without fail, flying in the face of all the odds on Sunday, the Vancouver Canucks managed to draw a match-up against their arch-rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Don’t bother messing with destiny.
On Wednesday evening, Vancouver’s drive for the Cup begins against the team that stopped Mats Sundin’s final playoff charge 2 years ago and that stopped the Art Ross Trophy winner and league MVP one year later.
Perhaps it seems counter intuitive, but instead of directing loathing and fear towards Jonathon Toews’ and Patrick Kane’s team, Canucks fans really should thank them.
A 7-1 loss at the hands of the ‘Hawks on November 20 was a glaring sign pointing to the mediocrity with which the team had been playing up until that point in the season.
At the time, the Canucks were 10-6-3 overall and 4-5-3 on the road; we broke down why the loss was critical and why it could not possibly be viewed as “just another loss.” Fortunately, the players viewed it in the same light.
It was widely publicized that team captain, Henrik Sedin, championed a players-only meeting following the loss, and what followed was a stretch of hockey dominance never before witnessed on the West Coast. After November 20, the Canucks went 44-13-6 on the remainder of the season, simply exerting their will upon the the rest of the league and forcing people to recognize them as the class of the NHL.
With the playoffs beginning Wednesday against their bitter rivals, the Canucks must hope that this season’s occurrences are a beacon for their future playoff successes – that the two heartwrenching playoff losses to the Blackhawks have brought the Canucks together and will manifest themselves in a much stronger effort this time around.
Think about last year’s second round loss and its repercussions: going into the series, opinions were split on who was going to end up on top. Many experts picked Vancouver. After all, they boasted the Art Ross trophy winner, gold-medal winning goaltender, and a strong and deep defensive core.
In that series, the team was, of course, beset by injuries – Sami Salo, Alex Edler, Willie Mitchell, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows – all were either ailing or not playing at all – and derailed by a lack of composure.
Instead of making excuses for his team, GM Mike Gillis took it as a learning experience, stating in his post-season press conference that the team needed to be deeper, admitting that special teams were a disaster, agreeing that the goaltending issue needed to be solved, and addressing the lack of composure within team leaders.
And he stuck to his word, quickly bringing Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard into the fold – both top line defensemen on any other NHL team. The Canucks entered the season with 6 top-4 level defensemen, and an added depth of at least 3 or 4 more who could fill-in when injuries inevetably occured.
Special teams would be revamped by new assistant coach, Newell Brown, whose first order of business was to stack the first powerplay unit in order to make any opposition fear the line and avoid taking penalties.
The goaltending was addressed by removing the pressure of the captain’s title from Roberto Luongo in order to allow him to focus on rebuilding his game and attitude with the help of new, full-time goalie coach, Rollie Melanson.
Forward lines were bolstered – no longer would the team be pushed around, as Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres were brought in to add some beef.
And at the trade deadline, even more depth was added through the additions of Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins, to a team that was already the deepest and best in the league.
That is what losing to a well-endowed, solid, Chicago Blackhawks, team 2 playoffs, running has done to Mike Gillis and his Canucks.
Will this version of the story have a different outcome than has been written in years gone by? Those who have chosen the ‘Hawks to win base it on history: Chicago is in Vancouver’s head, they are the team’s arch nemesis; Chicago is the reigning Cup champion, they know what it takes to win.
This is not an honest breakdown of the teams as they currently are. It is a shoddy, lazy piece of work by the so-called “analysts”.
This Vancouver Canucks team is different, physically and mentally. It is squad inspired by the battle of Manny Malhotra, and it is a team of destiny.
Their journey begins on Wednesday night.
If you’re not yet jacked up for this series and for Wednesday night’s impending game, watch this video. That feeling in your chest? Your heart pumping a mile a minute.