This insignificant road game had been talked about for weeks. Or days. It was the beginning of a seven thousand nine hundred and twenty-nine kilometre journey to the farthest reaches of league. In other words it was near the center of the universe.
Many Some A few gullible Orca followers had predicted the end of the slide of five. The beginning of a tougher, pluckier Canucks road team that played to win - win or lose.
And they were right. Until half way through the second. But, let's save the sewer water curses for later.
The full crew that brought us 4, count 'em 4 consecutive victories to start the season were on the ice. Tanev was back. And Burrs. And Habs killer, Double-D. The team has learned from its mistake in the previous losses. The only way to keep from getting shutout as they discovered, almost successfully in their last game, is to shoot more and the goals will follow as will the wins. (It really is a great theory - just needs the right laboratory conditions).
Despite the early game, the Canucks got a great start. Preserved the tie through the first two minutes. Then in a moment of opportune thick crust roughing, Sbisa took a penalty. Which was killed easily by our crack group of PKers. At least I hope they're ours now. Barely a shot on goal from the legendary powerplay of Les Habs.
And so on and on the first period continued. Vancouver pressured and hemmed in the Habs - outshooting them 13 to 3 in the first period, while I was eating dinner and told repeatedly NOT to look at the TV. It was a textbook road game first period, the type most Canucks fans only read about in...textbooks.
The Nucks forced FIVE giveaways and outhit Montreal 9-4. AND most importantly the Canucks preserved the TIE! AV would be so proud. And I'm just relieved I'm not writing something horrible and depressing. Like how the Nucks won more faceoffs than the Habs. That's the kind of unexpected progress that puts false hope in a different time zone. That didn't happen and the Habs won the meaningless FO battle.
It just keeps getting better. Maybe this is the game that the Nucks of last season come to play on the road this season. Great pressure - outshooting Montreal 5-0 in the first few minutes. And as all stats fans know, goals are most likely to occur from shots rather than Price, bored of being the best goaltender in the world, kicks the puck into his own net.
All this pressure was going to get us the holy grail. No, not the Cup. No, not even a berth on the sacred path to the Grail. But, a goal. A GOAL to lead the game. The GOAL to RULE them ALL!
That was not to be. First, Tanev (trade him now?) took a penalty and the Habs got a few decent looks on their powerplay, but Shaw (ha-ha) took an interference penalty and we enjoyed some fast and furious 4 on 4 action. With added hyperbole.
Then the Nucks got on the powerplay and a sure goal almost happened! No, really. It was almost a powerplay goal! Hank feathered a pass to Edler through the legs of a falling Weber (who is from BC and should, according to NM laws of player conduct, be playing for a BC NHL team).
Pass complete and fluttering puck almost...almost...Special Ed couldn't quite get the wood on the rolling puck and it glanced off the post - past Price (who is from BC and should, according to NM laws of conduct, be playing for a BC NHL team).
After the bloody lucky Habs killed off the penalty some back and forth play ensued. After a power move to the net by Bo, Sven got a sneaky backhand off that handcuffed Price and scored his first of the year! Yay! Game Leading Goal!
However, outside the fantasy hockey room in my mind, something else happened.
inconceivable happened. The Habs scored off the rush into a yawning cage of despair. Some say the cage of despair was opened for business by special Ed. Others felt Larsen was weak on the breaking up the rush (it was Guds). Others were too despairified to care. (it was Guds) And me, I couldn't pull my hands off my face to watch the slomo replay of destruction. And the screams of horror were deafening. And wouldn't stop. Until I closed my mouth.
No worries tho. The Comeback Canucks still had reclaiming the tie as a real, almost not quite achievable goal in sight. All it required was a single goal. After peppering Price with 20+ shots, how hard could it be? As longtime fans of the Canucks know so very well, rhetorical questions were invented in Vancouver in 1970.
And then just when the comeback was so close to coming, Fright Night in Canada started two nights late. The Habs stoopid speed game entered the Canucks zone (again), drew Miller into a compromised position and another eveel black puck widened the yawning cage of despair into a 2-zip final minute of the 2nd debacle.
To properly put in context the evilness of that goal, it was scored by Mitchell - Montreal's FOURTH line center, who has FIVE goals on 9 shots to start the season. I know you're thinking that could be Gaunce too. If he played for Montreal.
3RD (and final) PERIOD
As narratives go...the "We've Seen This All Before" theme isn't the most attractive one to start the final period. So...when in an awkwardly ugly and fully fugly emotional place, the smart peeps turn to stats to brighten their day. In the single most meaningful stat in hockey, the Nucks won. They won the faceoff battle 31-29. Forget what I said earlier. Faceoffs lead to puck possession and puck possession leads to shots and shots lead to goals. On any other team.
Now that the momentum had shifted into the red, our hapless heroes lapsed into the best system to overcome adversity - sloppy play. Poor passing and indecisive moves. It's a combo destined to spark the team. To giving up another EN goal.
That wasn't an actual goal per se. It was a lame 'automatic goal' - the officials claiming that when a player shooting into the empty net is pushed into the net and it comes off the weakly fastened fastenings - Voila! Automatic goal. I'm not making this stuff up! It's in the Rulebook. The Rulebook that will be printed any day now and shredded before next May rolls around.
Mid-game the broadcast showed a far too chipper and self-satisfied ref chatting with Price by his net. Using my hindsight lip-reading glasses, I'm sure he said: "No worries, Carey - we won't let them get a goal on you - and we have a little surprise at the end you're really gonna like. *snicker*"
When the Canuck's are outshot 2-1, pretty much means the Canucks lose.
When the Canucks outshoot an opponent 2-1, pretty much means the Canucks lose.
It's a freak symmetrical cause and effect stat. But what does it mean? It means something truly unfair and terrible for your fav team. Yes, the Canucks dominated the shot clock - the big hand on 42 and little bitty Habs hand on 21, but only the middle path can prevail.
The Nucks have to play just so - not too many shots, not too few. It's weird mentioning the Goldilox paradox on a sports blog. It's weirder still to watch it play out on the ice. Twisted fairy tale meets statistical anomaly and the hockey gods laugh all the way down the Avenue of the Americas.
For those of you bemoaning our fate at home and the fate of our new 20+ goal man, Loui, you'll be
pleasantly annoyingly surprised he had the most shots of any Canuck. Had 5 shots on goal! In one game! That's only four less than that 4th liner Mitchell has in 10 games. Yeah, that Mitchell, who has 5 goals already.
At least Loui has one goal this season. Kind of. If the hockey gods aren't playing keep away with Eriksson, then there are no hockey gods and life is cruel.
And speaking of cruel - guess what's next for our six-loss-streaked Nucks? (The Sens for a back-to-back? Pfft. That's not cruel, only painful) The cruel truth is...HNIC on Saturday. In the Center of the Universe. Facing the slayer of McJesus and his oh so smug coach. So...tune in on Saturday to watch Bo dominate Mathews and Loui, Sven and most of the team slay their goal drought dragon. I'll be watching. At a safe distance. Under a blanket of scream repressing, Pinot Noir infused pillows. Yeah, I'm that confident. How about you?