Roberto Luongo

It’s playoff time, and rather than lead off with some clever transition from nothing, I’ll mention that I don’t need to do that and that you don’t need another vanilla, clichéd-up version of some dude picking all the favorites to win in 6 or 7 games and act like any value was added to your Stanley Cup playoff investment.

What we are going to do today is look at the “experts’ picks” from three of the most visible hockey media companies, compare their hunches to the series prices currently offered by the sportsbooks, and see if we can’t take a stab at predicting some things that won’t happen in the first round of the playoffs.

The three sources that I tallied to compile the 35 “experts’ picks” figures were, (I know, I know), and The series price betting lines were taken from

Western Conference
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings
The Canucks are the Presidents’ Trophy winners for a second consecutive season, and return to the playoffs after last season’s highly scrutinized loss in the 107th game. They were always going to be favorites as a #1 seed, but the L.A. Kings really don’t match up all that well with Vancouver.
L.A. game is based on defensive prowess and superb goaltending from Jonathan Quick, who will certainly be in Vegas as a finalist for the Vezina this summer. But, contrary to popular belief, the Canucks are an excellent defensive team as well. And they have speed!
While the Kings’ D is properly lauded for being the second stingiest in the league, the Canucks only allowed 19 more goals this season than L.A., which placed Vancouver fourth in the league in total defense.
And contrary to the widespread mob mentality, Roberto Luongo is just fine. I wrote all about that before the trade deadline, so I won’t go over the same numbers. But people need to get over that brain cramp in 2007. Seriously. Or, at least hold Luongo to the same standards to which every other goalie is held.

Both Daniel Sedin and Jeff Carter are expected to be ready for their respective teams, so the injury excuse isn’t one that we can use for either team yet.
Everyone will be and is talking about how it is just a matter of time before Cory Schneider rips the starting spot from Luongo. I disagree. I don’t think Schneider will see more than one game of the five that will be played, and I think that one is going to be simply to keep him fresh and because the Canucks will be taking care of business.
Quick Reference – Experts’ picks: 28-7 VAN; Series price: VAN (-225) LAK (+185); What Won’t Happen: L.A. winning this series, Roberto Luongo losing his starting job.
#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #7 San Jose Sharks
I really thought more people would be calling for the Sharks to win this one. After all, they have more playoff experience and perhaps the freedom of starting as a lower seed this time around. I thought the betting line would be close to even, allowing for wise guys to make a killing on the Blues as the disrespected-yet-clearly-better team.
That didn’t happen, as the Blues are getting more respect than I figured a hockey team from St. Louis could in what might as well be their first go-round.
The experts had the Blues over the Sharks at a 25-10 clip, and the betting line was an unforgiving -165 for St. Louis.
Photo found here
Halak & Backes: Two of my fantasy studs. They’re also on my fantasy hockey team.

Here’s why I love the Blues.
First, there seems to be this common perception that all of a sudden the playoffs will expose the Blues’ limitations and lack of experience, and that the veteran Sharks took the regular season off but will be fully focused now that it counts. The problem with this logic is that St. Louis plays a playoff style of hockey in the regular season. Why in the world would they be unfit to continue to succeed with this playoff style in the playoffs?
The Blues led the league in defense by a wide margin. Isn’t that old, mindless cliché about the hot goalie supposed to be regurgitated a thousand times by now? Well if so, here we have the best defensive team in the NHL backstopped by the guy who grabbed his crappy 8 seed by the scruff of the neck and dragged them past at-the-time still hot young thing Washington and defending champion Pittsburgh. The lazy saying was made for matchups like this. Throw in a possibly healthy peripheral league leader in Brian Elliott, and the Blues should be able to continue to lock everyone down just like they have for the last six months.
Speaking of goalies, isn’t everybody talking about how Antti Niemi is iffy and the worst goalie to ever win a Cup and blah blah blah? If all that is true, and you’re needing to match up with the best defensive team in hockey, wouldn’t it follow that San Jose is not good enough to out defend St. Louis?
The Sharks’ were tied for 6th best in goals allowed in the Western Conference, which allowed them to be +18 in goal differential, as compared to the Blues’ +45. And remember, that’s +45 and the best goals allowed total whilst playing in a division that far outscores the one that San Jose plays in.
The bottom line is, as much as I respect the possibility that the Sharks learn and put it all together, I just prefer the roster and playing style of the Blues, especially if the team I like more has home ice advantage.
It should be noted that of the underdogs, San Jose has the third-lowest payout on the moneyline, making this series the third most likely to yield an upset according to the sportsbooks.
Quick Reference – Experts’ picks: 25-10 STL; Series price: STL (-165) SJ (+145); What Won’t Happen: St. Louis is unable to exact their playing style now that it’s the playoffs, Anyone in 4, Anyone in 7.
#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #6 Chicago Blackhawks
I’m impressed with both the “experts” and the lines makers for recognizing just how good this series is set up to be.
This is another instance of the home seed having a lower point total but benefitting from geography, but readers know I have overvalued the Coyotes players for a while. I may have picked them to beat Detroit last year. I’m too lazy to check, but if I didn’t take Phoenix, I at least took them to lose in 7. That looked laughable last year, as Phoenix was the only team to get swept in the opening round.
But here we are again, and I still love Phoenix’s makeup. The roster gets made fun of, and everyone uses words like “toughness” in the same go-to way that NFL draft experts talk about college players that have a “motor,” or NBA draft talking heads refer to every white guy’s athleticism as “sneaky.”
These are the freaking playoffs. The NHL playoffs. This is hockey, and at the highest level. Every single team is going to have multiple instances and examples of “toughness.”
What everyone is really saying is, “We don’t think Phoenix is very talented.” Well, that’s cool. Let me ask you this: what would be the narrative about 35-goal scorer Radim Vrbata if he played on the east coast and/or had a North American-sounding name? I’ll tell you what word wouldn’t be used to describe his offensive output: “sneaky.” Alas, he plays his home games in Phoenix, and therefore is an overachiever, just like the rest of them.
The dichotomy in net couldn’t be more distinct. Mike Smith placed in the top eight in every relevant goaltending category this season. Corey Crawford was in the thirties in peripherals amongst qualifying netminders, and led the line for a team that completed exactly zero shutouts this season. 0-for-82. That might prove to be irrelevant, as either Chicago could pick the best time to start shutting people out, or they may just win the series without needing any bagels. But as of right now, the individual seasons for the young goalies Smith and Crawford went in very different directions.
And as much as I love Chicago’s offensive prowess from the blue line, Keith Yandle led all defensemen in this series in points, while second-year stud Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s 13 goals were tops. Those guys play for Phoenix, and I think you’ll find their games to be anything but “sneaky.”
I love this matchup for a lot of reasons. The less respected, more defensively reliant team has home ice. The offensively explosive, recent Cup champions find themselves about to embark on a battle that will be every bit as physically demanding as the one they found themselves in with Vancouver last year. Of the eight western playoff teams, Phoenix (+12) and Chicago (+10) have the lowest goal differentials (but for very different reasons). This is a contrast of styles and accomplishments that is about as interesting as a first-round series can yield. The picks and lines on this one reflect that.
Quick Reference – Experts’ picks: 20-15 CHI; Series price: PHX (+115) CHI (-135); What Won’t Happen: Chicago walks through this one, you don’t remember Phoenix center Martin Hanzal’s name when it’s all over.
#4 Nashville Predators vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
Alright, so what’s up with this one. Not surprisingly, the books have this as a pick ‘em at the moment. I can see why. One one hand, we have a somewhat recent champion with most of the same players in key positions. On the other hand, we have a team that is all-in for the title right now and has home ice. The consensus seems to be that this series is a candidate for going the distance.
What’s stunning is the consensus that once this one gets to a seventh game that the Predators will win. Nashville won in the experts’ books by a whopping 29-6 count. So, almost everybody likes the Preds to win the series. Yet, nearly everyone likes them to do so in exactly seven games. I’ve never seen a bigger example of playing it safe. Pick the home team, but take it in seven.
Amongst the twelve ESPN “experts,” only one has Detroit to win the series (Linda Cohn, in 6 games). So, how many of the remaining eleven, all of whom picked the Predators, took Smashville to win it in exactly seven games? How about ELEVEN. That’s right — eleven out of eleven.
This says a few things. First, it’s a close call. Second, nobody wants to take Detroit over Nashville, despite the books and the length-of-series projections admitting that the series is essentially a pick ‘em. And third, nobody likes Nashville to close out the series at Joe Louis Arena. Smart call, I would say.
The whole “what won’t happen” idea for these analyses basically came from my belief that while my Red Wings may win and they may lose, they sure as hell aren’t getting eliminated at home. It would seem that ESPN agrees with me. Not sure what that says about me… Come to think of it… shit.
Quick Reference: Experts’ picks: 29-6 NSH; Series price: NSH (-110) DET (-110); What Won’t Happen: Predators in 4 or 6.
Thanks for reading; we’ll be back to do this again for the conference semifinals.

The other day I came across a little back-and-forth blog entry on the worldwide leader of not hockey coverage concerning what the Vancouver Canucks should do with goaltender Cory Schneider. The debate is the same one that any good team has around the trade deadline: do we keep our guys regardless of position or remaining years under contract, or do we trade some guys off for added depth and/or bolstering weaknesses?
Craig Custance argued the only rational side — that the Canucks have to trade Schneider’s expiring contract this month in exchange for skating help, because not only is the soon-to-be 26 year-old scheduled for a huge raise in conflict with the team’s marriage to starter Roberto Luongo, but also because championship windows are only open for so long, and the team is obligated to stock up on as many players that can actually help in a playoff run while the squad is good enough to snatch sport’s greatest trophy.
Scott Burnside argued that the Canucks can only win the Stanley Cup if Schneider plays a decent role in doing so. He went on to state that Luongo “cannot go all four rounds” necessary to win the Stanley Cup. Folks, it’s time for some good ol’ fact exploration, myth debunking and rationality in the hockey media.

Cory Schneider’s contract is up this summer, and he’s probably the hottest name amongst young goalies ready to become full-time starters somewhere in the NHL. This means that he’s going to be offered more than his current $900,000 salary he’s making this season. How much more? Just remember that Mike Smith scored a $2 million per year contract with Phoenix last July based solely on a few good games late in the season, including one in the playoffs. Schneider’s last few years have undoubtedly garnered more confidence in his ability to guard the line than Smith’s had. So… is the number $3 million a year? More? Of course, it will depend on supply and demand, but highly coveted free agents tend to get very good contract offers.
Whatever the offer will be, the Canucks would have to be willing to match it and then be alright with blowing around or above $8 million a year on goaltending. That would be possible, but given the Canucks’ penchant for spending to the salary cap, it may lead to a rude awakening that all of a sudden leaves the team’s skaters downgraded. I know this doesn’t necessarily pertain to next season, but as it stands right now, the Canucks have the least amount of cap room this season of all 30 teams in the NHL.
I’ve written extensively about the need to spin off expiring contracts that a team knows it can’t re-sign. Despite all the man love for Schneider, this situation is no different. The Canucks are set up to compete for the Stanley Cup right now. There is no guarantee that the Sedins will be this good forever, or even next season given the way concussions are ending careers these days. Vancouver has already seen how much Ryan Kesler’s health means to their playoff successes, so why can’t people see the need for as much skating depth as possible during a war of attrition?
If trading Schneider this month can get the Canucks a contributing skater and maybe even a draft pick, the team is almost obligated to pull the trigger. When was the last time a young goaltender entered the playoffs as a backup and won the Stanley Cup? One could look to Antti Niemi in 2010, but by the time the playoffs had started Chicago had clearly chosen Niemi as the team’s number one. Unless Vancouver is planning a similar seat change, we can’t use the 2010 Blackhawks as a “see, I told you so” anecdote. On the other hand, Chris Osgood came into the 2008 playoffs as Detroit’s backup, but went on to win 14 games and the Cup. But one disqualifying piece of evidence is that Osgood had done it before. He “went all four rounds” in 1998, so he can’t be linked in with the Luongo / Schneider debate as Burnside crafted it.
Of course, the whole of Burnside’s and the rest of anti-Luongo nation’s argument is that Luongo is incapable of winning the Stanley Cup. I hate it when I’m forced to defend a person or stance that I don’t entirely believe in, but you’ve all forced me to be Luongo’s de facto apologist. Let’s take this time to get a grip, because if Luongo backstops Vancouver to the Cup this year I don’t want to hear the popular sentiment change. Here’s your chance to take in the facts and decide whether you want to be an anti-Luongo extremist or a person who acknowledges that the future is unknown and that the past indicates that a Luongo-led Cup win is entirely within the realm of possibility.
Why Do We Think Luongo is a Loser?
To debunk the myth that Roberto Luongo is a mental midget who is “incapable of going all four rounds” of a Stanley Cup playoff, it’s important to go back and figure out why we have this abstract feeling in the first place.
I remember when I used to waste my time watching college football. There was one particular game in 2007 when USC traveled to Nebraska. I remember watching the Trojans dismantle Big Red, and thinking, “Wow, I forgot that playing football really well was what USC actually did.” Over the previous five seasons, the USC Trojans football scene was surrounded by such hyperbole (“best team ever in 2005”… until they lost) and celebrity (akin to L.A. Lakers games) that I had forgotten they were at their core a highly successful amateur football team. Like when the rock star dominates the pages of the pseudo-tabloids, it’s easy to forget sometimes what the star actually does.
I think that while a lot of the Luongo hate is based in recent playoff losses, more of it is based in… we forget. Prior to 2007, Roberto Luongo had never played in a playoff game at the NHL level. But that 2006-07 season was his first in Vancouver, and it is remembered as an absolute stinker for Luongo because of the way that it ended, with him seemingly complaining to the referee seconds before allowing a soft wrister from 57 feet out.
Here’s how that ’07 playoff series ended

But even in that game, Luongo stopped 50 of 52 shots. In his first career playoff game a few weeks earlier, he saved 72 of 76 in a win over Dallas. His GAA for the 2007 playoffs was 1.77, and was accompanied by a .941 save percentage. These brilliant stats don’t account for the fact that the Canucks were beaten by the eventual champs, the Anaheim Ducks, who many still regard as one of the best teams in recent memory. But nobody cares to look up the numbers, because Luongo screwed it up. I believe this lapse in concentration has led to all of the current Burnside-esque assumptions about Luongo’s supposedly low mental strength, but most people would need some time to remember this root of the argument.
The following season was a bad one for Vancouver, as they missed the playoffs and caused the media to pick up the “blow up the team” reaction, which in some ways was followed by team brass. Some of the old guys were out, and the team started to look like its current self around the 2008-09 season. One quick note about 2007-08: Luongo had a 2.38 GAA and .917 save %. Just sayin’.
2008-09 was another good season for Luongo, as he slightly improved his regular season stats from the prior year. The playoff exit came at the hands of the young and uber-talented Chicago Blackhawks in the second round. Despite the clincher being a 7-5 win for Chicago, Luongo still sported a so-so 2.52 and .914 in those playoffs. And here’s another point: the idea that this was an upset is misguided. Vancouver had home ice solely based on winning the weak Northwest division. The Canucks gained 100 regular season points to the Blackhawks’ 104. The better team won.
The following season was easily Luongo’s worst. He brought a 2.57 and .913 into the playoffs, and put up numbers that were much worse once he got there. The 3.22 GAA was not good enough, and an .895 save % is simply never going to win Stanley Cups. But this playoff was again lost to the Blackhawks, who went on to win the Cup in a finish that surprised exactly nobody. The Blackhawks were the odds-on favorite to win the thing to begin with. And he did win the Olympic gold medal game in overtime at home, and there has never been more pressure on him than in that game.
The 2010 series against Chicago was a stinker, as only one game of the six was decided by as little as two goals. Luongo was not very good. But anyone watching the series knew who the better team was anyway. The mark of a goalie who cannot get it done is that he fails despite having the better team in front of him. No sane person would argue the 2010 Canucks were better than the 2010 Blackhawks.
Then there was last year, when Luongo put up much better regular season numbers and in doing so was a finalist for the Vezina. His playoff stats were almost equal to those from the 2009 playoff season, except this time, his team made it fifteen games further. How does one explain that? One possible explanation is that the Canucks were a much better team in 2011 than in 2009. I think that’s a big part of it. Another explanation is that 2011 was a weak year for Chicago, who lost to Vancouver in seven games after not being able to find the defending champion magic. I would even agree with that assessment.
Chicago was down last year, and Vancouver still needed OT of the seventh game to finish them off. But here’s the point — they did finish them off. And Luongo was clutch in the 2-1 win to close things out. He was equally clutch in two shutouts during the Stanley Cup Finals against Boston, one of which being the at-the-time “must win” Game 5 on home ice, where the Canucks prevailed by a goalie-friendly score of 1-0. Not a lot of mental weakness there. So why do we still spew the same tired analysis of his so-called mental weakness five years after the embarrassing playoff exit?
Because thinking is hard, and the story of life and reality is so much more comprehendible once we start using motifs and putting everybody in their box. Few people want to acknowledge that the future is unknown and many different results are possible. Ideologies are preferred by the less intellectual; extremism and bigotry are on the particularly non-thinking side of the spectrum. So here’s one that makes it easier: Luongo is a loser who always loses and therefore will always continue to lose, no matter the facts, moving parts or reality that surrounded past losses or future outlooks. There, we did it! We came to an absolute conclusion. Doesn’t that feel better and safer than contemplation?
Now that we’ve rooted out the source of the widespread anti-Luongo sentiment, let’s go fact finding.
Luongo Has Won Pressure Packed Games
We have this thing called the Triple Gold Club that includes players who have won the Stanley Cup, IIHF World Championship, and an Olympic gold medal in their careers. These players are seen as inarguable winners.
Luongo needs only the Stanley Cup to join this list.
In winning the gold medal in 2010, Luongo led Team Canada through four elimination games. The last two were 3-2 victories. The Games were in Vancouver. The entire country of Canada was demanding a gold medal and nothing less. Luongo won the games.

You think Luongo would have gotten out alive if he had lost this game?

During last year’s playoffs, Luongo was the winning netminder in two of the three games that he started when facing similar pressure. He won Game 7 against Chicago, he won Game 5 against Boston, and lost Game 7 against Boston. Before we write off that fifth game of last year’s finals, let’s think about what a Canucks loss would have meant. It was one of those clichéd “closest thing to a must-win” game. Vancouver won it 1-0. It looked like this:

And that seventh game that proved once and for all that Luongo didn’t have what it takes to “go all four rounds,” well, Vancouver scored 0 goals in that game anyway. Boston won and Vancouver lost, but the three wins the Canucks did get were largely influenced by Luongo. Show me the loss in which Luongo was the difference.
Luongo Has Gone “All 4 Rounds”
Deciding games are always the end of the chapter. Many underdog teams hope to even make the seventh game of a given series, despite the fact that it will be a road game, because “anything can happen in a one-off situation.” Fact: Luongo made it to the seventh game of the final round. Yes, the Canucks had home ice and lost. Yes, he allowed too many goals in Games 6 and 7, when the Cup was one victory away. But the argument that he “cannot go all four rounds” is not at all supported by the evidence.
Rocky & Apollo after the first fight

In Rocky, it was the Italian Stallion’s mission at the Spectrum to “go the distance” with heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. Despite Rocky Balboa’s split decision loss, he is professionally proud that he “went the distance” with the champ. A fifteen-round split decision loss is about as close as one can get to actually winning. So is losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
If Luongo’s Past Disqualifies Him from “Going All 4 Rounds” & Winning the Cup, Then Everyone Else’s Does Too
If we’re going to say stupid things like, “The guy who got to the final game of the final round can’t go all four rounds,” then no other goalie who has yet to win the Stanley Cup can go all four rounds and win it either. This conclusion is of course asinine, but it logically follows from Burnside’s argument.
Here is the list of current NHL goaltenders who have shown they can “go all four rounds” and win the Cup, since we’ve determined that getting the the seventh game of the Finals is not doing so: Martin Brodeur (comical at this point), Nikolai Khabibulin (is there anyone more unlikely given age and team?), Cam Ward, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Marc Andre Fleury, Antti Niemi and Tim Thomas.
Hey, a betting man may love the idea of getting Boston, San Jose and Pittsburgh against the field when it comes to winning the Cup this year, but to say that these are the only teams that have a shot in 2012 because they’re the only teams with goalies who have done it before is so ignorant that it really doesn’t warrant all of the contemplation we’ve given it just on this blog entry. But sometimes absurd things have to be called out.
Will Luongo ever win a Stanley Cup? I don’t know, although I would say the likelihood substantially drops if this isn’t the year. But he’s capable of doing so, and let’s not forget two key facts about the way everybody analyses sport.
First, too many of us have become obsessed with the destination. Putting all of the emphasis on finishing first is a good way to promote actually finishing first, but it also causes us to forget just how hard and statistically unlikely it is for any one team or person to actually finish first, especially in a league of 30 teams with a salary cap.
Not appreciating the journey also has some insane side effects, aside from the obvious obsessing over the destination. It causes us to demand ends to stories far too quickly. Remember, before Luongo sucked and was incapable of winning, he was young and awesome and the highest goalie ever drafted at the time and “if only he could get out of Florida he could really be a winner.” He’s lived through just four playoff seasons, and only one with a legitimate Cup contending team, but now he’s done and dusted. He sucks.

Photo via
Remember when Luongo was the hot 26 year-old that just needed to get out of town?

The Buildup Always Precedes the Tear Down
I’ve yet to hear anyone point out the hypocrisy needed to declare Luongo a failure while touting the Stanley Cup credentials of Schneider. Let’s not forget that six years ago Luongo was in a similar position to Schneider. The talk was, “Man, that Luongo sure is good but he’s stuck in a hockey black hole with Florida. If only he could get out.” While Luongo had been the Panthers’ starter for a bit, in contrast with Schneider’s zero seasons as an NHL starter, the sentiment and their ages (26) at the specific point are very similar. Since finishing first and winning titles is very difficult, is there any doubt that in six years time we’ll be doing the same deconstructing of Schneider’s game, barring a Stanley Cup somewhere between now and then? Not bloody likely.
Photo via
Now Schneider’s the fawned-over mid-20s goalie that needs a new spot

I’m not sure how to prove this as “fact,” but there is no way at this current moment that the statistical odds of Vancouver winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 are noticeably greater with Schneider in net than they are with Luongo. If you disagree with me, then you almost certainly also believe that Tim Tebow is a good NFL quarterback and other various illogical, irrational, bad takes that are wholly unsupported by any critical analysis or evidence. But I’m not talking to those people, because if you’re still reading this you’re obviously a smart person capable of thought. Help me help you. Let’s clear our heads of the lazy, all too easy “Luongo sucks” garbage.
Do I believe Roberto Luongo is the best goalie in the NHL? Not at all. I’ve been a Henrik Lundqvist honk for years. Do I see issues with the way the Canucks have exited the playoffs in the last four tries? Sure. The only game in which Luongo played well and still suffered elimination was that 2007 blunder in Anaheim, with two blowouts from Chicago and one from Boston coming since. Am I picking the Canucks to win the Cup this year? I don’t think so, but we’ll see come April.
One Goalie Must be Traded this Month
My point is this: the championship window is open right now for Vancouver. It won’t be for long, if history of sport is any indication. This spring should provide the Canucks another opportunity to achieve the greatest success in hockey while offering their mobbish fan base the spiteful victory they may not know how to handle.
The move is simple. If the Canucks do not want to or cannot trade Luongo and the remaining nine years on his contract with the intention of moving forward with Schneider as the starter in the fall of 2012 and beyond, then they should definitely trade Schneider for something that will help them win the Stanley Cup in four months. If they think that letting Schneider play out the string, sit the bench (or even play) for another elimination, and sign a contract to be someone else’s starter is the smart move, they may want to re-read this sentence.
Fan sentiment changes over time, and ultimately is based solely on titles. To let Schneider walk for free in July and end up with zero Stanley Cups in Vancouver ten years from now would be unacceptable. To trade Luongo and end up with zero Stanley Cups in Vancouver ten years from now would be unacceptable, albeit popular for a short period of time. To trade Schneider now in exchange for a deeper squad that allows for a more honest run at the Cup this year while also selling the fans on the impossibility of re-signing him this summer would be by far the most acceptable move to a fan base that, like all others, is fickle, vindictive and a prisoner of the moment.
The Canucks should not give in. They hold a very valuable piece that a few teams may covet. No team ever plans on winning the Stanley Cup with its backup goaltender, and therefore, if all goes well the team will not need to use this valuable piece until they no longer own it. They are married to the man who sits in front of the player in question. The decision is obvious: sell, sell, sell. In the interest of the sporting attitude, go for it. Because what’s another playoff loss going to do for you moving forward? Nothing except more whining and riots.

The only way keeping Schneider through the playoffs makes sense is if the Canucks’ skaters suffer little to no injuries. Good luck with that.
On Wednesday night the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks will stage one game for the Stanley Cup, and will give all hockey fans all we could ask for: a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals.
This is even funnier now.
In this 21st century world of saturated media (I offer as evidence that I have a blog, and you’re reading it!) we seem to have become obsessed with assigning blame to teams or athletes that lose.  The word “choke” is thrown around by hate mongers to describe each and every time someone comes up a little short, even when that loser was the underdog to begin with.  Everyone’s loving Tiger Woods’ life implosion, and he is talked about more now than he was when he was winning at an incredible rate.  America rejoiced the other night when the Miami Heat had to eat the platter of excrement that they prepared for themselves when they talked about winning seven or more championships before they had ever ran a drill together (going out of your way to stick it to an entire franchise on national television didn’t garner any sympathy points either).  And as great as Roger Federer is and was, he got more chatter relating to his decline (which lasted all of 16 months, by the way) than any of his amazingly dominant grand slam runs.

Remember when Federer was “done?”

The list of examples of our obsession with piling on losers rather than celebrating winners goes on and on, but it should not see a single entry from the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs on it.  Up to this point, I believe the playoffs have played out exactly as they should have.  Obviously, there was Ilya Bryzgalov quitting on the Phoenix Coyotes, and the much maligned Sharks doing what they do, but nothing has really happened in these playoffs that loosely resembles a choke.  Even the Capitals did what they always do, which is lose early to a team that nobody foresaw beating them.  And even then, the story was predominantly Washington, not Tampa Bay.
We’ve already laid the foundation for the Roberto Luongo “choke” in Game 7, and everyone rooting against him is ready to invalidate his entire career with any loss Wednesday night.  The jokes are locked and loaded — Monday night saw the term “Roberto LeBrongo” trending worldwide on Twitter (see paragraph 2).

Today is the biggest game of Luongo’s career, again.

But as hockey people, we’ve always held ourselves to a higher standard than fans of the other big sports, so let’s do what we should do, and focus on how wonderful it is that we have this series of moments that is a Game 7 in the season’s final series.  Someone will win, and let’s focus on celebrating them, before turning our attention to next season.  Oh, and our next season will be played in a few months, unlike those other leagues.  So absorbing yourself in Game 7 won’t go without value — you’ll get to carry that backstory into this fall and pick up where you left off.

As far as who will win Game 7, nobody knows.  But Canucks MVP candidate Daniel Sedin thinks he does.  Sedin said that Vancouver will win Game 7, just as they’ve won every home game in the series so far.  Most people are doing what we do these days and calling it a guarantee just to get eyeballs and clicks, but Sedin never used that word.  All he did was say that he believes his team is going to win, and really, there’s nothing to criticize about that.  If he’s right, then maybe he will elevate his and his brother’s status in the eyes of North American hockey fans, who have long been slammed for being “soft.”  But I don’t think Daniel making these comments have anything to do with the aftermath of a Canucks win.  For one, a Canucks win make all talk and former panic irrelevant.  Also, Sedin probably feels more free to go out and make things happen knowing that he quipped the talk early and said that the team will just win the game.  It sounds obvious that he should go out and play freely and create and score goals in the biggest game of his career, but it’s not always that easy to feel free in these games.  The magnitude of big moments has restricted the weak of heart for as long as mankind has existed.  This is Sedin saying “screw it, let’s just play.”

Luongo scared? That’s not true! Come after me, I’m a man! I’m 30!

Another possible motivation for Daniel to speak out and “guarantee” a Game 7 win is that it will lead people to talk about his statement, and not Luongo’s state of mind.  This is a tactic that has been used by coaches for a while, but it’s not something we’ve seen come from the quiet Swede before.  To me, this is proof of Sedin’s continuing evolution as a hockey player and as a man.  It takes guts to make declarations prior to do-or-die games, despite the obvious reality that these statements do not really matter.  We’ve been asking for heart and grit out of the Sedin twins for a long time.  Here’s a start.  Wednesday can be something of a finish.
Regarding Luongo’s state of mind entering Game 7, there are conflicting schools of thought, and either could prove to be right.  The conventional thinking seems to be that Luongo has been money at home, and therefore should continue to be.  A dissenting opinion is that a man can only be beaten down so many times, and Game 6 solidified that the earlier beatings in Boston were no fluke.  Luongo has been pulled twice now in the finals.  Perhaps the 19-8 overall score line has Luongo shaken in the lead up to what is close to a 50/50 game for all the marbles.
But Luongo has prevailed in this situation before.  Granted, he had an amazing team in front of him for the 2010 Olympic gold medal game, but he also had exponentially more pressure on him.  This Stanley Cup run has been very important to all Vancouver Canuck fans for the last few months.  The Olympics were an all-or-nothing proposition for the host country for four years.  Luongo managed that game well, despite allowing a game-tying goal with under a minute left in regulation.  On top of that, he fared just fine in Game 5 after two shellings, and was superb in Game 7 against Chicago in the ultimate panicked negativity situation around the team.  I wouldn’t expect another yanking of Luongo in Game 7.
A better reason that Luongo and the Canucks won’t bring home the Cup is the man in the other crease.  Tim Thomas has had one of the most outstanding goaltending seasons in recent memory, and he only upped his game for the Stanley Cup finals.  By all accounts, Thomas already has the Conn Smythe Trophy wrapped up.  There’s no reason he shouldn’t, as both teams are 15-9 through 24 postseason games thus far.  If Thomas is the unanimous MVP through 24 games, what could happen in the 25th to turn that on its head?  Nothing, and Thomas should bring home the hardware tomorrow.  The only question is whether he will do it Giguere style.  He, and Bruins nation, hopes not.

Tim Thomas wants no part of a J.S. Giguere dichotomy tonight.

Besides the goaltenders, one key for both teams is to be aggressive and not find themselves trying to counterpunch.  I think both teams will come out assertive, but Boston probably has the bodies to do it a little bit better.  While the Bruins don’t have Nathan Horton up front, they still have Chara, Lucic and the rest of the lumberjacks to bend some wills.  And speaking of Horton, how cool was it to see him at the glass swinging a towel and rooting on his teammates?  

Thank the Lord I’m somewhere that cares.
You think that guy loves finally being on a competitive hockey team after wasting the first six years of his career in South Beach?
But the Canucks won’t let the B’s come into their own building and shove them around.  I expect Vancouver to bang as much as Boston, and that’s another reason I have no problem with Daniel Sedin saying the Canucks will win.  If anything, it should galvanize the team.  Makes you wonder if the right Sedin is looking to become the second european captain to ever win the Stanley Cup (Lidstrom ’08).
I don’t think Boston has to do much differently to win the Stanley Cup in Game 7.  They’ve been in every game this series, dropping all three losses by one goal.  We know Thomas and the rest of the Bruins’ vets are going to show up.  It just comes down to who executes better and gets some breaks.  One positive thing the Bruins have going for them is the power play disparity in the series.  Vancouver, who brought a 28.8% power play success rate into the finals, is sputtering at 6.5% in the finals.  Boston, on the other hand, couldn’t throw in a power play goal leading up to the finals.  But the Bruins have bucked the trend and rolled at a 19.2% clip against the Canucks.
Moving onto strategy, one thing I would do if I was Vancouver is roll out Dan Hamhuis.  I know he’s probably very hurt, and it seems unlikely that the defenseman will play in Game 7.  But if he can skate, he needs to play.  Ryan Kesler has been doing it the whole series.  The only question really is, who gives you more, Hamhuis or rookie Chris Tanev?  That’s a rhetorical question, and therefore I just can’t see how Hamhuis would be held out of this one if he can give the Canucks even 12 minutes of pain-impaired but responsible hockey.  What do they have to worry about, next year, when they might not have a home game to win the ultimate prize?

Guess who’s feeling better Wednesday morning

Another question for Vancouver is who will replace winger Mason Raymond, who fractured a vertebra in Game 6.  By all reports, Raymond’s injury is a vicious one, and I hope he can get through his time of pain.  He is listed as out for at least four months.  It seems that CCHA product Jeff Tambellini would be the most likely replacement, although coach Vigneault has not indicated his Game 7 roster at this moment.
With all of this said, let’s realize again that these two teams have given us everything that we ask for as sports fans.  Both teams have given it everything in taking it to the final game, all while playing as collectively hurt as they’ve been in their hockey careers.  Wednesday will be the 107th game for each team this season, and it will be that magical seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals.
In many ways, we’ve become spoiled with these Game 7s in the Cup finals.  This will be the sixth Game 7 in the finals since the turn of the millennium.  The home team won the first four, before the Penguins prevailed in Joe Louis Arena in 2009 in the single most painful loss of my adult sports life.  But these games are a treat.  Just ask anyone who watched hockey from 1966 to 2000, only to see three such spectacles in those 35 seasons.  And so the moral of the story is this: enjoy the hell out of this Game 7 between the two most deserving teams in the league, and don’t pile on the loser; instead, celebrate the winner.  Not much more to say, good luck to all parties, and let’s have a great game.  Can’t wait to look ahead to the offseason.
The Stanley Cup will be in Boston tonight, but the Bruins intentions are to keep it in its case and next day air it back to Vancouver.
The Vancouver Canucks are looking to win the first road game in these Stanley Cup finals in Game 6 tonight.  If they are successful, the Stanley Cup will be theirs.  We’ve seen this same situation in Game 6 of the finals the past three years, with Detroit and Chicago clinching the Cup on the road in 2008 and ’10.  If the same result happens tonight, the Canucks will win the game’s biggest prize for the first time in the franchise’s 40 seasons.  Conversely, the Penguins stayed alive at home in 2009 before hitting the road and winning the Cup in Detroit in Game 7.  Boston will want to channel that black and yellow home ice success tonight.
Everybody has an opinion, but nobody knows what will happen tonight.  Here’s one thing I’m thankful for: that Dirk Nowitski and the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title last night.  Before my hockey readers get upset, here’s two reasons why.  First, and most obviously, they beat the jerks that are Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.  But second, and more importantly for the NHL, the NBA finals are over.  Tonight, the sports world gets to fully turn its attention to Boston for what could be the last game of the season.  There’s no “superfight” of a Miami Heat game 7 to worry about (yes, NBA playoff games are “games;” NHL playoff games are “Games”).  All of the casual fans will be locked into Game 6 tonight, and if necessary, Game 7 on Wednesday night in Vancouver.  There’s no quantifying how important it is for the NHL that the biggest and most polarizing story in the NBA in decades is now over, or at least on hold for a while.

Photo courtesy
Dirk Nowitski is excited to bring you an uninterrupted game or two of the Stanley Cup Finals. You’re welcome, world.
As far as tonight’s game goes, anybody can point to any stat they want to make their case for which team will win.  For Boston, there’s the fact that they outscored Vancouver 12-1 in their two home games, and have won nine of ten games at home since dropping the first two games of the playoffs to Montreal.  There’s the resiliency that the Bruins have shown with their backs against the wall in two Game 7s just to get to this point.  But, then there’s the fact that the man who scored the game-winning goals in both of those Game 7s, Nathan Horton, is not walking through that door, at least not this season.
Photo courtesy
Nathan Horton: Not Walking Through That Door

For Vancouver, there’s no reason not to be confident tonight.  Sure, they fared terribly in Boston last week, but it’s a new day, and funny things happen when championship trophies are in the building.  I mean honestly, did anybody think Miami wasn’t winning that game last night?  As far as actual on-ice results go, the Canucks can look to the fact that they finally may have figured out their post-Hamhuis/Rome defensive lineup, as rookie Chris Tanev joined the lineup as the sixth D man, relegating Keith Ballard back to the bench.  The result was Roberto Luongo’s second 1-0 home shutout of the series, and thus we can probably expect the same six on the blue line tonight for Vancouver.  Hamhuis travelled with the team, but that was a foregone conclusion, seeing as they might be skating with the Cup tonight.  He is listed as out for tonight’s Game 6.
Photo courtesy
Luongo won’t win the Vezina this year,
but he hopes to raise the Stanley Cup.

Photo courtesy Getty Images
Thomas will win his second Vezina, but
hopes to avoid being awarded the Conn
Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP — at least
not tonight.

What do you guys think will happen tonight?  Will Vancouver finally win the most coveted prize in hockey, or is this thing going back west for a Game 7?  And in the event of a Canuck win tonight, is Tim Thomas still the Conn Smythe winner?  I would have to say yes.
It was a little over ten years ago, but I remember it like it was last week.  I was a junior in high school, and was beside myself celebrating a goal at Joe Louis Arena that put my future alma mater ahead 1-0 on the #1 team in the nation in the CCHA semifinals.  It was the only goal the Bowling Green Falcons could get past Spartans goaltender Ryan Miller, but for that one moment, it felt like a double overtime tournament winner.  The shooter:  Falcon freshman defenseman Kevin Bieksa.

Ninth-seeded Bowling Green wasn’t even supposed to be there, but they swept conference #2 Miami before winning a play-in game on the road at Northern Michigan.  By the time the conference semifinal was getting late, the majority of the crowd was chanting “Let’s go Falcons” with their cowbells and their maize and blue jerseys.  You see, it was fans of the Spartans’ hated rival, the University of Michigan, who had adopted the little team that could for those last ten minutes in what was ultimately a 2-1 escape for Michigan State.  Miller won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s best player just weeks later, and of course the Olympic Silver Medal last winter.

While Bieksa’s goal in 2001 was scored with 70% of the host state behind him, last night’s goal was scored to the ecstasy of around 70% of a nation.  Bieksa scored one of the weirdest overtime goals in hockey history, when an Alex Edler dump in caught a hanger in the glass and kicked out to the center of the blue line.  The only thing was, only Bieksa knew where the puck was.  The puck was wobbling and the D man had to step up and fire before everyone else realized where the puck was, and Bieksa caught just enough of it to guide it past Antti Niemi’s unsuspecting left pad and send the Vancouver Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since the Russian Rocket, Pavel Bure, was taking the league by storm in 1994.

Kevin Bieksa: From Cult Hero to National Savior

All of this came just one series after Bieksa’s much-maligned overtime miss against Pekka Rinne, in which Henrik Sedin fed a centering pass to the charging defenseman, who had almost the entire net open as Rinne was aggressively playing Sedin to his left.  Rinne dove across the crease and made the save on Bieksa’s shot, but many people pointed to the fact that Bieksa did not get much on the shot, did not lift the puck at all, and shot it directly at Rinne, rather than the open part of the net.  Bieksa brushed off the criticism, saying that he was not much of a finisher, and that’s why he does not play forward.  And even though the Canucks won the series, I don’t think that misfire was completely put to bed until last night.

None of this would have happened had Ryan Kesler and Henrik Sedin not hooked up on a tip drill with 14 seconds to play in regulation to tie the game at 2.  It was Sedin’s second assist of the night.  Roberto Luongo again had to make over 20 more saves than Antti Niemi, as the Sharks outshot Vancouver 56-34, to no avail.  Remember that in Game 4 San Jose outshot the Canucks 35-13 in a game that saw them fall behind 4-0 before eventually losing 4-2.  My take on the San Jose Sharks moving forward will come sometime before the Stanley Cup Finals start, but for now, this is all about Vancouver and my fellow Falcon, Kevin Bieksa.

Bieksa has always been something of a cult hero amongst Canuck fans, due to his hard hitting, game awareness and timely goal scoring.  But this is Bieksa’s “jump the shark” moment, pardon the quasi-intentional yet perfectly situated pun.  No longer can people refer to the man who has scored the most famous goal in recent franchise history as anything shy of a bona fide Vancouver legend.  

In fact, Bieksa better be careful, or people might start calling him Mr. May.  While he only has 34 career regular season goals in 347 games played, Bieksa has amassed a shocking five goals in these 2011 playoffs.  That equates to a tripling of his career goals per game total, and only improves his already heroic status in the minds of those who follow him the most.  Even if he manages to avoid the Mr. May tag, there’s no guaranteeing there won’t be a “Kevin Bieksa Facts” website in the near future.

Good luck to the Canucks in the Finals, and to my fellow Falcon and game winning goal scoring defenseman, Kevin Bieksa.

All three home teams had different opportunities heading into last night’s games.  All three failed to seize said opportunity.

The Los Angeles Kings, as expected, were unable to inflate their bursted bubble, and now find themselves heading back to San Jose on the brink of elimination after Thursday night’s 6-3 loss.  San Jose took a 3-0 lead in the second period before LA kinda, sorta tried to come back, scoring twice before allowing another three to reopen the floodgates.  This series doesn’t look like an instant classic, and I think it’s safe to say the Red Wings are watching tape of the Sharks.

Of course, there is still that matter of whether the Red Wings will even play the Sharks, given that top seed Vancouver doesn’t seem to want to place themselves into the conference semifinals too early.  Chicago dominated the Canucks for the second game in a row, winning again by a five goal margin.  The game was over early, as 20 minutes into the game the Hawks led 3-0 and Vancouver had already spent its timeout.  It got to 5-0 by the second intermission, and that was the final score as Corey Crawford turned away all 36 shots he faced.  Chicago did what Detroit could not do last year in its attempt to keep the Game 4 momentum rolling against the Sharks.  At this moment, the Hawks trail the series 3-2, but lead in goal differential by 7.

The Blackhawks set the tone very early by taking a cross checking penalty when two players lit up an unsuspecting Daniel Sedin, who had his back turned but was within a stick’s swipe of Crawford.  Sedin stayed down for a moment and winced in pain, but the Canucks were unable to convert on the power play and never again had any momentum in the game.  The series now is starting to smell a lot more like an 0-3 comeback, but there are still two legs to go for the defending champs.  One thing Vancouver will need to do at the United Center in Game 6 is assert themselves as the more physical team.  If they allow their MVP candidate to be blasted from behind without any physical or scoreboard retaliation, they risk not only another loss and a tied series, but they also send the message that they are not willing to push back.  This realization would only fuel Chicago’s fire, and allow the Hawks to feel free to blast away on the twins, knowing that there’s no risk of a power play goal and little risk of getting beat up.

Another thing the Canucks should think about, but won’t, is starting Cory Schneider in net for Game 6.  Many people will call me an idiot for this, but let me explain why it’s worth a shot.  First, if you win, it’s over.  All is good.  If you lose, there’s another game to play.  It would be at home, and for all the marbles.  There’s no way the Canucks would roll Luongo every game only to bench him for the final game.  Additionally, Luongo is bad in the playoffs against Chicago, sporting a 7-10 record with a 3.56 GAA.  He’s absolutely starting a Game 7, without question.  His 12 year contract demands it.  But the same isn’t true of Game 6.  There can be a number of explanations, from “he needed rest” to “we wanted to try to ignite the team” to “Robbie’s day-to-day with a Chara mystery disease.”  The truth can be that Vignault thought it was possible that Schneider gave the team a better chance to win on that night, but he doesn’t have to say that.  Of course, there’s no way this will happen because if it doesn’t work and Luongo loses Game 7, Coach V faces criticism and Luongo feels slighted.  It’s not hard to pick up on Luongo’s insecurity.  It shows every time he whips his head around and does his mannerisms that scream “I know a camera is on me right now.”  It also showed during the Olympics, when he won a gold medal despite playing with a blocker on each hand.  We all know that when a front office signs a player to a 12 year deal, the coach has no choice but to roll the player out.  So there’s really nothing more to say on the matter — Luongo will be in net for Game 6, and he better be good or he’ll put the franchise in a position to take five steps back.

The other game last night was of course the Boston / Montreal Game 4 at the Bell Centre.  Boston fell behind three times only to send it to overtime and win it early in the extra frame, 5-4.  The series seems extremely competitive and exciting, but I think Montreal blew their best chance and will find it hard to continue the trend of road victories in Game 5.  There’s certainly no reason to think Montreal can’t win two of three from here on out, but Boston just looks to me like the more playoff-ready team, despite the results of both teams last year.  If nothing else though, the pressure has shifted back to Boston, or at least is shared now, and that may prove to be liberating for the Habs.  I don’t think that’s the case though, as Montreal looked pretty liberated last night right up until the goal that tied it at 4 late in the game.  Hard to imagine they feel better going into Game 5 than they did last night when they outshot the B’s 15-8 in the opening period.

Three impressive road victories, to go with three missed opportunities for teams that may have needed wins.