Monday, April 20, 2009
Of course, this had to be expected from the Blues. The Canucks were coming into a hostile building, the Blues were down two games in the series, and you'd have to think any team in Saint Louis' situation would feed off the crowd and throw some weight around from the start to set the tone. There were definitely a lot of hits, that's for sure. It wasn't 2.5 minutes after the Backes goal before Mattias Ohlund was sent off for cross-checking. A penalty kill was imperative at that point since a 2-0 Blues lead would make it pretty tough for the Canucks to come back and win this game. Instead, they killed that. About five minutes later, Daniel Sedin was sent away for high-sticking. Not so bad, until Willie Mitchell got called for a four-minute high-stick. With that, the Canucks had to dust off their crazy penalty killing skills from Game 1 so they could dodge this 1:26-long two-man advantage for the Blues. Somehow, they did, which is difficult considering Mitchell is one of the Canucks' top penalty-killing guys, but he was sitting in the box serving all this penalty time.
With that, the Canucks had gotten through the worst that the Blues had dished out, and they were only down 1-0 after 20 minutes. From there, the Canucks took advantage of the Blues' lack of discipline. Mattias Ohlund's one-timer that leaked through the five hole on Chris Mason tied the game 35 seconds into Jay McClement's slashing penalty. Then it got crazy with Brandon Crombeen's slashing penalty being followed 51 seconds later by McClement again, this time for holding Ryan Kesler's stick. The resulting 5-on-3 had its shots, and it looked fairly benign until Jay McKee was trying to shove a loose puck to Chris Mason for the cover-up, but instead Daniel Sedin wedged his way into the play and shoved the puck through Mason's legs.
Canuck fans like me at that point were hoping the Vancouver defense would tighten up and be able to hold this 2-1 lead until the end of the period. Part of the reason for that is because the Canucks never lost in regulation during the season when they took a lead into the third period. Instead, David Perron from the right corner made a pinpoint pass through the slot to Andy McDonald on the back door, who roofed it past Luongo after having hit posts three times in Game 2. Kyle Wellwood (with his stick in the air) was the only defender near McDonald on the play, so it wasn't exactly a shining moment for the defense. A skirmish at the end of the third period landed Crombeen in the penalty box once again, but he was the only one to get called. The Canucks came out of the dressing room with the power play and made good 1:41 into it. Sami Salo's getting up in age, and it's entirely possible he was trying to hit the net with his shot but was way off. I also think it's possible Salo did it on purpose. Nonetheless, the puck banked off the end boards and went right to Henrik Sedin beside the net, who quickly flipped the puck across the crease to a wide-open Steve Bernier for what held up as the winner.
Before the halfway mark of the third period, the Canucks were tagged for two more penalties, closely enough for Saint Louis to have 1:03 of two-man advantage time. Further consider that Ryan Kesler and Willie Mitchell, two of the team's best penalty killers, were the guys that got penalized. The remaining cast of Alex Burrows, Ryan Johnson, and the remaining defensemen (and even the Sedin twins for puck possession purposes) held down the fort for the penalty-kill unit. I don't know how they keep doing it, but I can't argue with the results. This penalty kill hasn't been quite this good all season, and it hasn't been this good since the 2007 playoff run (the kill was the NHL's best that season).
I guess the funny thing about this series is that everyone was talking about how much it was to the Blues' advantage to be on the power play (their penalty kill was very good as well) while the Canucks' strength was five-on-five hockey. While I won't dispute that I'd rather have the Canucks playing five-on-five, all three of their goals in this game were on the power play. The Blues have scored one of their three goals on the power play in the series. Saint Louis' power play that was great during the regular season has gone 1-for-17 in this series. Obviously, this means the Canuck penalty kill which ended the season run-of-the-mill (they picked it up toward the end) has killed 16 of 17 penalties.
I've been saying I think the Blues can't possibly get swept in this series, and I guess if they have anything left in them, they'll push this series back to Vancouver for Game 5. They might throw Paul Kariya and his two new hips into the lineup, but it might be too late. Kariya's probably the only thing the Blues haven't thrown at Vancouver. It's going to take an incredible collapse for the Canucks to lose four straight and punt the series away, but being up 3-0 isn't exactly setting yourself up for failure.
Big thanks to Team 1040 and the Canucks Radio Network for bringing Sports Radio 950 KJR-AM and western Washington along for the ride in Game 3.