It’s a riot: Wrapping up Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final
If I were a true gambler, my prop bet for Game 7 between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins would have been on whether or not a riot would break out in downtown Vancouver if the Canucks lost.
Sadly, I was proven right as a group of drunken idiots, not true Canucks or hockey fans, decided to loot, start fires and turn over cars. It was all-too-predictable, considering the last time the Canucks lost a Final in 1994 a riot also broke out. Like Ice Cube once said, “Everything you needed to know about the riot was in the record before the riot.”
I have never understood the mentality of folks who riot over a sporting event and this one didn’t change my feeling on that. If nothing else, the Vancouver riot did give us the amazing image of a young couple making out on the street surrounded by riot police. Google it for yourself, its an amazing shot, like the cover of Green Day’s “21st Century Breakdown” come to life.
Enough about the riot, how about Game 7 in one of the most perplexing hockey series I can remember. On paper, the Bruins dominated this series, outscoring the Canucks 23-8 over the seven games. The Bruins had also controlled the physical action on the ice for the majority of the series. Only in Game 5, coming off two embarrassing defeats in Beantown, did the Canucks match the Bruins’ intensity.
And yet, Vancouver was the favorite heading into Game 7, given that Boston had yet to win on the road in the series. The Canucks had the star-power, the best-regular season record in the league and a fan base ready to riot for a championship.
So what happened?
The common fan will likely blame goalie Roberto Luongo, and the man known as Bobby Lou has certainly deserves his share of blame given his ugly performances in games 3,4 and 6 in Boston.
Calling Luongo “Jeckyll and Hyde” is this series may be the cheapest cliché a writer can buy at the Writer Cliché Store. But how else to describe a guy whose performance fluctuated so wildly depending on which customs agent stamps his passport? Luongo had only given up two goals at home heading into Game 7 but 14 goals in Boston.
Luongo’s performance was believed to be the key to a Canucks victory, but a funny thing happened in Game 7; Luongo didn’t play badly and the Canucks still lost.
Of the Bruins goals, Luongo never saw Patrice Bergeron’s first tally and Brad Marchand’s first and Bergeron’s second were fluky goals that ricocheted off body parts. Marchand’s second was an empty-netter.
The real failure in Game 7, and throughout this series really, was the failure of the Canucks’ vaunted offense.
Swedish twin brothers Henrik and Daniel Sedin are, fairly or not, bound to get tagged with the “soft Euro” title that Dirk Nowitzki recently shed. Then again, the twins earned some of it with particularly egregious examples of diving and flopping, and with their offensive no-show in this series.
At their best, the Sedins control the game by telepathy, like the aliens in “Independence Day,” playing keep-away with the puck and working the middle of the ice. But from the outset of this series, the Bruins kept the Sedins to the boards, where the massive Zdeno Chara and hard-hitting Dennis Seidenberg punished them frequently.
Once the Bruins turned this series into a street fight in Game 3, the Sedins disappeared. You have to think there’s going to be a lot of soul-searching between Henrik and Daniel this offseason, because these guys are too good to be completely shut down like they were in this series.
In a seven game series, it’s hard to point to one moment where the whole thing changed, but in this series, it’s easy: Aaron Rome’s hit on Boston’s Nathan Horton. No doubt the Bruins were galvanized by the hit, which left Horton, one of their top forwards, with a concussion that ended his series.
In response, the Bruins turned the physical play up a notch, picked up their defensive presence and challenged the manhood of the Canucks to a point that Vancouver was never able to match.
The Rome hit was a double-whammy for the Canucks: besides serving as a wake-up call for their opponents, it also cost Vancouver much needed depth on the backline when Rome was suspended the rest of the series.
The Canucks really, really, really missed Dan Hamhuis – a physical presence who, with partner Kevin Bieksa, would have equaled the Chara/Seidenberg tandem in nastiness – who got hurt in Game 1 after hip-checking Boston’s Milan Lucic. Injuries also took their toll on Alex Edler, who played Game 7 with a bad hand and was targeted all night by the Bruins’ fourth line.
By the end of the series, the Canucks defense was exhausted and had nothing left. Notice the way young legs like Marchand and Tyler Seguin seemed so much quicker than Vancouver’s back line. The line of Marchand, Bergeron and 43-year-old Mark Recchi dominated Game 7.
Of course, the real reason the Bruins won was Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas. The plucky netminder has a strange style –if my kid was a goalie I wouldn’t encourage him to wander around the goal crease like Thomas does – but it works for him. Vancouver could never solve Thomas, who had to stop more quality scoring chances than Luongo did.
Winning at hockey, whether in a Stanley Cup Final or a beer league tournament, always comes back to goaltending. If your goalie can’t stop anything, you’re screwed, no matter how much talent you may have. The Bruins won for a variety of reasons, but the biggest one was this: Thomas was the best goaltender in these playoffs.
On a random note, maybe it’s time to reconsider Gary Bettman’s coming out to hand over the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup. Bettman, as is a right of passage in hockey, was booed mercilessly and it’s almost enough to make you feel bad for him. Almost. Until you remember that, well, he’s Gary Bettman, the Fredo Corleone of sports commissioners.
Finally, allow me to drink an Aprihop and give a hearty congrats to Bruins president Cam Neely.
Growing up, despite being a Caps fan, Neely was my favorite player. My friend Paul and I used to do fantasy style drafts of NHL players and I always picked Neely No.1 (for the record, Paul always picked his favorite player, Ron Hextall).
Neely was THE power forward of his era, a guy that could score 50 goals and check guys through the glass. When he was injured at the hands of Pittsburgh’s Ulf Samuelsson in the 1991 playoffs, it began my irrational disdain for the Penguins.
Neely was also the man who played the legendary Seabass in “Dumb and Dumber,” leading to an all-time movie quote, “Kick his a$$, Seabass,” and the sight of a bearded Neely spitting in Jeff Daniels’ burger.
So with that I say, way to go Cam, you deserved to finally get your name on that Cup.