(this was my headline. I’ve always wanted to use a Cory Schneider pun like that. So I did.)
Sometimes, a goaltender can steal a game. In a nutshell, that’s what Cory Schneider did to the Devils on a night where the Devils dramatically outplayed the defending Western Conference champions. The Devils weren’t completely crisp with their passing throughout the game, and they were sloppy at times, but for the most part, it was Schneider that handed the Devils just their second regulation loss since the All-Star break. Vancouver also blocked more shots (and intercepted more passes), and won more face-offs than the Devils (42-19).
Vancouver also got off to a strong start to this game, which may have surprised the Devils, since the Canucks played an intense, close game in Detroit the night before. Vancouver outshot the Devils, 6-2 at the beginning of the game, including their first goal of the game, which came from Aaron Rome’s rebound shot off a Chris Tanev shot. Following the goal, the Devils registered the final six shots of the period, but Schneider stopped them all.
On the first shot of the second period, Vancouver doubled their lead, on what would be the game-winning goal. David Booth dropped the puck back to Mason Raymond from the right circle, and he beat Martin Brodeur cleanly. Later in the period, though, the Devils would get on the board. Patrik Elias faked a shot on a 2-on-1, and sent it across the David Clarkson. The puck appeared to re-direct past Schneider after hitting multiple players’ skates, including Clarkson. The goal was reviewed, but it counted. That was the only puck that beat Schneider all night.
Over the final two periods, the Devils had 23 shots to the Canucks’ 10, but Cory Schneider simply dominated the Devils. His rebound control was excellent, as the Devils were unable to get to the few rebounds he allowed. The Vancouver defensemen also got their sticks in passing and shooting lanes to restrict the Devils’ offensive options. When they had chances, they were either couldn’t connect on a pass or had it knocked away by a Canucks player. The microcosm of their frustrating night was when it looked as if Ilya Kovalchuk would have himself a breakaway, but he couldn’t settle the puck down. Schneider finished with 30 saves.
Although the Devils played a decent all-around game tonight, especially when you consider that they shut down the Sedin-line for most of the night (Sedin-Sedin-Burrows were held to two combined shots), they were exposed in an area that has haunted them many times this season: their inability to win face-offs when they need them. Of course, Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson have all missed significant time this season, but Zajac’s loss hurts the most. Zajac, when healthy, is one of the best face-off men in the league. Besides Zajac, the Devils don’t have anyone who can be counted on to take face-offs.
Patrik Elias leads the Devils, as he’s taken 1,042 draws this season. He’s only won 43.8% of them. Adam Henrique has won 48.9% of his draws, Dainius Zubrus is at 43.6% and Josefson is barely over 47%. It’s also worth noting that Pete DeBoer has David Clarkson take many of the face-offs on the power play, yet Clarkson’s face-off percentage is a mere 39.4% this season. On the flip side, Vancouver centers dominated the face-off circle all night. Including the Devils power play late in the second period, center Manny Malhotra won six consecutive face-offs during the game tonight, and 12 of 18 overall. Ryan Kesler won 12 of 20, Henrik Sedin won 7 of 10 and Cody Hodgson won 5 of 6. The Devils simply had no answer for the Canucks’ centers.
Despite losing a severe majority of face-offs, the Devils’ forecheck made up for that, as they pressured the Canucks in their own zone all night. That led to tremendous scoring chances. The Devils took 31 shots on goal, but many of them were high-quality chances. Zach Parise led the team with 7 shots, followed by Clarkson and Kovalchuk, who had 5 each. Vancouver also blocked 15 shots. The Devils also failed on both of their power plays (partially due to their lack of face-off success), and they didn’t really get anything set up on either chance.
One of the Devils’ best power play defenseman, Kurtis Foster, was traded during the game. He didn’t dress tonight, but he, Nick Palmieri, Stephane Veilleux and a pair of draft picks were sent to Minnesota for defenseman Marek Zidlicky. Zidlicky will likely assume duties on the first unit of the power play. He’ll likely make his Devils debut on Sunday against Tampa Bay.
The Stanley Cup Finals. It pits the two “best” teams in the league up against each other for a chance to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup. The most exciting time of the season.
When you hear Stanley Cup Finals, you think overtime hockey. You think close, exciting games. You dream of that game seven overtime goal.
At the end of game one, this is what we thought we were going to have as the audience. Raffi Torres scoring the game-winning goal for Vancouver with 18.5 seconds left in the third period. A final score of 1-0. One of the most exciting game one’s I have ever seen.
Game two was no different, with overtime being forced and Alex Burrows scoring the second quickest goal in SCF history, at 11 seconds.
Game three was do or die for the Bruins. Boston wasn’t going down without a fight as they romped the Canucks, 8-1.
Since that third game, the verdict of the series was evident. Boston was going to win. Boston was clearly outplaying the Canucks. In the games that Boston won, they outscored the Canucks 25-3. In the games the Canucks won, the difference was 5-2. Meaning, the Bruins scored 27 goals this series, while Vancouver only scored eight. Lopsided offense much?
The Bruins were also able to do something almost unheard of in the Stanley Cup Finals. They were able to chase the Canucks’ star goaltender, Roberto Luongo, from the game. You want your best players to be just that, your BEST players. Luongo was not the Canucks best player this series, on or off the ice. Karma struck Luongo after he criticized Tim Thomas’ playing style, as he gave up three goals within the first nine minutes of game six.
This Stanley Cup Final also saw the Canucks lose, even though they never trailed in any of their other playoff series.
To sum it up, congrats to the Bruins. They were clearly the best team this off-season. Their on-ice product is something other teams need to look at and try to duplicate. Claude Julien, former Devils coach, knows how to run a successful organization.
And a special congrats to Tim Thomas for becoming only the second American-born player in history to win the Conn Smythe Trophy (the other was Brian Leetch in 94, against the Canucks. I see a pattern).
PS: It doesn’t hurt to think of it this way: The Devils beat the Bruins in the final game of the regular season. Therefore the Devils beat the Stanley Cup Champions. Therefore, the Devils are the true champions.
Two words that you never want to hear if your team is involved in it. Tonight will be the final game of the NHL season. There is no tomorrow. At about 10:45pm EST (barring overtime, God forbid) we will know who will be raising Lord Stanley’s Cup. I, myself, have been lucky enough to have gone to two Game 7’s in my life. One on the good end, and one on the bad end. Read the rest of this entry