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Canucks hit wall in home stretch - Neilson Numbers for Games Six & Seven

I'm not an auto racing fan, but three times in the last few weeks I've happened to have the TV tuned in at the denouement of some pretty amazing races. First it was J.R. Hildebrand shockingly hitting the wall as he came out of Turn 800 at the Brickyard, handing the Indianapolis 500 to a shocked but grateful Dan Wheldon. Later that day Dale Earnhardt Jr., desperate to end a 104-race NASCAR losing streak, ran out of gas 599½ miles into the Coca-Cola 600, allowing Kevin Harvick to cruise past him with the finish line in sight to take the checkered flag.  Then last weekend at the Canadian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel proved it can happen to the best of them as the F-1 points leader stunningly spun out in the final lap, handing that race to Jenson Button. Vettel had led pretty much from wire to wire but couldn't get it done when pressured at the end.

So it was with the 2011 Vancouver Canucks. Convincingly the NHL's best team through the regular season, the 'nucks never trailed a series at any point in the post-season, but were unable to complete the final lap without incident to bring home the big prize. Instead, VanCity (pick one or more) ran out of gas / spun out / hit the wall just when it seemed things were finally under control. They led the Boston Bruins 2-0, then 3-2 in the Finals, but were unable to deliver the coup de grace despite two opportunities to do so, the second on their own ice. Vancouver never gave themselves much of a chance, allowing the first four goals in all four of their losses. As I'm sure many Canucks supporters are asking themselves, what in the @#$%^& happened?

At the Cult of Hockey we don't pretend to have all the answers, but we do like to break down games a little differently. Usually we do important games only - those played by the Edmonton Oilers - but we broke with tradition a bit to cover these funny games some teams play in June called the "Stanley Cup Finals". Our method is to track scoring chances, to assign individual credit or blame for each chance for or against each team, and to tally the results in what we call Neilson Numbers in honour of the innovative coach Roger Neilson.

Not that that data in itself holds the answers either. Scoring chances in the SCF were pretty close to dead even - 115 for Boston, 112 for Vancouver - while the mounting scoreline was anything but. The cumulative score of the series wound up a staggering 23-8 for the Bruins, as the Beantowners (pick one or more) executed better on their chances / took advantage of some questionable netminding by Vancouver / invoked the ghosts of former Bruins Frankie Brimsek, Tiny Thompson, Terry Sawchuk, and Jacques Plante to protect their own net / benefitted from some extraordinary puck luck or (my choice) all of the above to turn the last five games of the series into a dreadful recurring nightmare for 'nucks fans.

For those of you hardcore types who are into forensic analysis of the still-glowing embers of a glorious dream, here are the Neilson Numbers from Game Six (warning: Worst. Headline. Ever.) and Game Seven as compiled by Cult of Hockey writers David Staples and myself. In between times I found room for this whimsical piece of comic relief which might touch a nerve if you're a staunch BobbiLu fan.

Probably a little early to be wishing you all a nice summer, but remember, things could be worse; my summer started ten long weeks ago with my once-proud team in DFL for the second year running. At least you had some exciting times along the way, even though ultimately your high-octane vehicle stalled out just at the wrongest possible moment.

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