Canucks-Kings series turning into a battle of star U.S. goalies
The Canucks’ revival near the halfway point of last night’s do-or-die-in-lasting-shame match against the L.A. Kings must have sent writers in the press box scrambling to delete stories they’d begun typing up during the first intermission. Vancouver’s baffled, half-assed play in the opening frame—highlighted by Anze Kopitar at the 13-minute mark, when he turnstiled Mason Raymond on his way to scoring a beauty—certainly gave the impression that the team’s 2011-12 season was deader than King Tut.
Then, just as the wake was getting under way, something remarkable happened. All at once, the deceased sat up, strolled over to the refreshments table, and grabbed a drink.
The odds are still stacked high against the Canucks as the series heads back to Rogers Arena for Game 5. But suddenly there’s also the sense that the contest may be a long way from over. And suddenly there are other stories to tell than the one Canucks fans were expecting, about how it all went so horribly wrong.
The Waiting Game
Such is the crazy scheduling of the series that a full 72 hours stands between game days at this point. Which club will benefit from the break?
Chances are that most of the Canucks roster would be glad to play again tonight if they could, just to keep the momentum rolling in their favour. But the team as a whole has often looked tired and listless lately. The rest should help key, minute-heavy players such as Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Kesler—and especially the newly returned Daniel Sedin, who played almost 20 minutes on Wednesday and seemed like his crafty old self for the last 10 of them.
The L.A. Kings, on the other hand, wind up with plenty of time to look out the window and stew over a blown chance to get rid of this year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners.
The Eagle Has Landed
The battle continues between Jonathan Quick and Cory Schneider, two 26-year-old American goalies just entering their prime and already building elite-level reputations. Unlike Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas—who took turns waving their limbs around in last season’s final, with different degrees of success—Quick and Schneider are both positionally upright, patient, and astonishingly even-tempered. They’re also star members of the strong contingent of U.S.-born goalies in this year’s playoffs, alongside Thomas, Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, and Ottawa’s Craig Anderson.
Is there a Canadian goalie you’d pick over either Quick or Schneider? Carey Price, maybe, but he’s out at the driving range (as is Michigan native Ryan Miller, for that matter). And the Canadian tenders who have made it into this postseason are not signalling a dominant future in net for Team Canada. Luongo (effectively benched for the moment), Marc-Andre Fleury (a sieve so far), Jose Theodore (old and suspect), and Martin Brodeur (really old and suspect) seem like the fading echoes of the great Quebec goalie boom. Phoenix’s Mike Smith and St. Louis’s Brian Elliott have been very good, but in each case this has come after a string of unremarkable seasons. Braden Holtby has been surprisingly solid for the Capitals, and the Black Hawks’ Corey Crawford is capable of brilliance, but only in flashes so far. Hardly money in the bank.
What does this say for international tournaments to come?
And speaking of drama in net…
Is Luongo All But Luon-gone?
The sexy headline this morning was that the decision to start Schneider in last night’s life-or-death game means Luongo’s days as a Vancouver Canuck are effectively done.
But not so fast. If, by some miracle, the Canucks managed to survive this opening round, and Schneider began to stumble at some later point (the dude is only human, after all), coach Alain Vigneault likely wouldn’t hesitate to throw Luongo back in. And despite all of the meltdowns and diatribes that have dogged Luongo’s reputation here, he’s proven capable of winning very big games. It’s worth remembering that he was the prevailing goaltender in what was arguably the most pressure-packed game ever played on Canadian soil, right here during the 2010 Olympics. He also posted two shutouts in last year’s Stanley Cup final, the same series that tossed his reputation in the Dumpster.
Mike Gillis knows this. There’s no question he’d prefer to keep Schneider when the off-season comes, all things being equal. But if another NHL club comes knocking with an offer for the young goaltender that’s too rich to refuse—a distinct possibility, given how Schneider’s blue-chip stock has kept rising—we may be in for another season of “Loooooo”.