by Brian Beitz
After the Canucks’ tragic Game-7 loss to the Boston Bruins last June (spoilers!), many speculated that one of the main reasons for their downfall was a lack of overall “grittiness.” While I don’t know exactly what it means to be gritty, judging by the winning side I can assume it has something to do with $#!&@ giants. Actually, I assume that the critics felt the Canucks to be a team that shied away from post-whistle melees, fights, and big hits.
I, and many others, have always felt that to be a ridiculous sentiment. There were a few reasons that contributed to my tears, and toughness did not seem to come into it, nor did their league-leading 856 hits in the post-season (Boston was number two with 673). Had the Canucks been rolling a powerplay that was more frightening than a cuddly duck or, perhaps, had a center with an intact groin, the series could very easily have swung the other way. That said, everyone knows that we at Smug Nation are nothing if not impartial and unbiased (wait; did everyone go look at the $#!&@ giant link yet?), and in that vein we reviewed game tape from last year’s playoff run.
Once I had soaked up all my tears with my sparkly new Canucks President’s Trophy 2012 hat, I began to realize that grittiness was indeed the cause of the Canucks losing the Stanley Cup Finals last spring, but maybe not in the way many thought. As you’ll see below, it turns out the Canucks were too gritty, and I hope they don’t make that mistake again.
Early in the playoffs, the Canucks were matched up against their then-most bitter rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, and got off to a terrific start, beating them 2-0 in Game 1 and 4-3 in a back-and-forth Game 2. When they arrived in Chicago for Game 3, the Canucks were confident but focused (but never cocky, smug, or arrogant), having led Chicago early in both of their modern-era playoff losses to the team. They also had a not-so-secret-or-effective weapon: Raffi Torres was returning from a 4-game suspension he earned after laying a hit on Jordan Eberle‘s future grandchildren in the regular season. Why was this a good thing? It wasn’t. It brought an element of toughness back into the game that the Canucks, who had outhit the Blackhawks in both games so far, probably didn’t need and, as it turned out, probably didn’t want as he crushed Brent Seabrook behind the net with about 8 minutes left to play in the 2nd.
Torres was penalized on the play and Seabrook played awhile longer before leaving the game with what was later diagnosed as a concussion. The Canucks went on to win Game 3 and make Patrick Kane cry. Later, though the league did not suspend Torres, the damage was done. With Seabrook out and Torres not facing any further discipline, the ‘Hawks rallied around their fallen comrade. Seabrook’s jersey was hung in his stall before each game and the team crawled back into the series, forcing what should have been a 4- or 5-game victory for the Canucks into a Game 7 OT struggle. The added games meant more travel, more hits, more blocked shots, more emotion, and more general wear and tear that a team headed for the Finals just doesn’t need.
Fast-forward through two more playoff series that I can’t really remember to the Stanley Finals against the Boston Bruins. In Game 1, Dan Hamhuis saw Milan Lucic coming up the boards and decided to throw one of his patented hipchecks in an effort to make Lucic accept Jesus as his lord and saviour—”The moments where there was only one set of skate tracks, Milan, is when I carried you.” Unfortunately, like Jesus before him, Hamhuis’s act involved huge sacrifice as he tore pretty much everything in an attempt to ensure Milan “Fatburger” Lucic landed safely. He never played another game in the series, leaving the Canucks without their top defenceman.
Then came Game 3. Once again, the Canucks were up 2-0 in a series and found a way to inspire their opponents. Five minutes into the 1st period, Aaron “All D Injuries Lead to” Rome, laid a devastating hit on Nathan Horton as he entered the Canucks’ zone:
Interesting to note that Rome is only playing that shift on the left of Kevin Bieksa because Bieksa’s regular partner, Hamhuis, was injured. Nathan Horton, as one might have guessed, didn’t play again in the series—nor did Rome, who was suspended for the next 4 games. While the Bruins failed to capitalize on the 5-minute powerplay that resulted from the play, an inspiring intermission speech by Zdeno Chara led to the team charging out in the 2nd period and never looked back, winning 4 of the next 5 games and ensuring
I male Canucks fans everywhere would be questioning my their manhood for the next 10 months.
No, random media and hockey analysts, the Canucks did not lack grit, toughness, iron will, spunk, tenacity, pizzazz, pluck, or even chutzpah in last year’s playoffs. If anything, they had too much of all those things, and their relentless hits were so devastating that they devastated their own team. Have you ever hit a man so hard that a team feels it needs to play in his honour? Torres has. Did you ever lift a man so large your groin split in two? Hamhuis did. Was there ever a time when you ran a man over with such a mistimed, thunderous blow that an entire legion of spiteful hockey gods turned against your team because they’re the only ones who should be able to create thunder? There was for Aaron Rome.
So please, Canucks, for me, just get out there and show a little less grit and a little less toughness this time, ok?