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Surprising Start, Surprising Finish! Canucks win 2-1 in Shootout
Jon Foxall

Surprising Start, Surprising Finish! Canucks win 2-1 in Shootout
Roberto Luongo has silenced his critics and put an end to the goalie controversy talk. But I’m pretty sure the talk around Vancouver will be trying to figure out how the hate was replaced by a kinder, gentler opponent in the Chicago Blackhawks. The Vancouver Canucks came away with a 2-1 SO victory.

Vancouver - February 2, 2013 - Nobody could have predicted tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks the way it started, the way it was played, and the way it finished. Nobody! In a shocking turn of events, I dare to say tonight’s game between the two rivals was…respectful! Yes, there was no hate, at least apparent hate, as these two teams renewed their rivalry. For a minute late in the first period I wouldn’t have been surprised if both teams dropped their sticks and gathered at center ice for a group hug. Watching this game unfold was eerie in a creepy sort of way because the Canucks and Blackhawks do NOT like each other, and all of their previous match ups proved that. But tonight was different.

Aside from the lack of customary brutality we’ve come to expect in these match-ups, the Canucks actually started tonight’s game controlling the play in the Hawks zone. The passes were crisp, and the positioning was perfect. The offensive attacks in the Hawks zone were concise and controlled, with no seemingly rushed plays or desperation shots. On the defensive side, the Canucks were fluid and precise in their checking as they effectively shut down the Hawks strikes. Aside from the first minute of the game which saw the Canucks ice the puck three consecutive times before they got their game on, the Canucks finished the period in control of the play, and with the lead.

Alexander Edler opened the scoring late in the first period by taking a pass from Zack Kassian in the slot to wrist the puck past Crawford to give the Canucks the lead heading into the first intermission. After 20 minutes, the Canucks held the lead by a goal, Luongo looked unbeatable, and there was no talk of cheap hits, or dirty plays, or blood stained ice! I started to feel like the fans had been duped into believing this was going to be a bloodbath and not a hockey game!

The second period had more of the same like the first. No chirping, no biting, no fighting, no “I’m gonna get you sucka” threats, and no outward display of the hatred we all came to expect, just hockey (gasp!). There was no scoring in the middle frame, and only one penalty, which was called on Jason Garrison for hooking with 2 minutes left before the intermission. All in all after 40 minutes, the Canucks were leading the second best team in the Conference by a goal, Luongo was nursing a shutout bid, and both teams still had players on their benches! Must be a full moon?

The only thing that came remotely close to “viciousness” was an inadvertent slash to the inside ankle of Dave Bolland by Mason Raymond as he swung for the puck in neutral ice territory. The only thing that remotely resembled hate was just over midway in the period when Duncan Keith had the puck, and he was loudly booed by the hometown fans.

Backup/Starting goaltender Roberto Luongo pitched a perfect shutout for 110 minutes until Patrick Kane scored with less than 10 minutes left in the game to tie the score 1-1. With the Canucks playing brilliantly for 50 minutes, and Luongo playing like he had something to prove, it was only a matter of time before the “new” Luongo reminded us of the “old” Luongo by looking very vulnerable on Kane’s goal. As Roberto slid across the crease to protect against the pass to Kane, he started to lean forward and almost as if in slow motion, by the time he reached the far post he was flat on his belly and completely helpless to defend against Kane’s shot.

It was after this that the Canucks started to ramp up their physical play and start playing the body before the puck and it payed immediate dividends three seconds after the Blackhawks tied the score. The Canucks drew a high sticking penalty, then with 40 seconds left in the Kruger’s penalty, Michael Frolik chipped the puck over the glass to take a delay of game penalty and give the Canucks a short two man power play. What a disaster that turned out to be as the Canucks looked absolutely pitiful for 40 seconds. They couldn’t get a pass across to their a teammates sticks let alone enter the Hawks zone.

Overtime couldn’t break the tie and the shootout was looming as everybody in Rogers Arena took a deep breath and wondered how much more Luongo had left. Apparently enough to not only get the win, but stop every shot he faced in the shootout. It took four rounds of shooters until Jordan Schroeder found just enough room between Cory Crawford’s pads to squeak his shot through and watch the puck trickle over the goal line.

So the game started out unusual in that the Canucks dominated the play early on, something they haven’t been able to do so far this young season. The game was unusually “tame” for a Canucks Blackhawks tilt, and Roberto Luongo convincingly won the game for his team in a shootout, something he even admits that is not his strong point!

To recap, Zack Kassian had another strong game on the first line getting an assist on Edler’s goal. The defensive pairing of Ballard and Tanev looks to be clicking and can be expected to be a permanent line for the foreseeable future. Aaron Volpatti obviously wasn’t needed to police against any thuggery as he only saw 4:50 minutes of ice time. Roberto Luongo, it can be safely assumed, has earned his number one position back as he finished the night stopping 27 of 28 shots for a 0.964 save percentage. So at least for the time being, Luongo has silenced his critics and put an end to the goalie controversy talk. But I’m pretty sure the talk around Vancouver will be trying to figure out how the hate was replaced by a kinder, gentler opponent in the Blackhawks.

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