VANCOUVER – The revolving door of defensemen surrounding Kevin Bieksa of the Vancouver Canucks will likely continue in Game 5, but the more immediate concern for the Canucks is their inability to stop that revolving door from leaving them in a state of dizziness.
One of the strengths of the Canucks all season has been their depth on the blueline. But that same defense corps is looking very leaky heading into Game 5 and if Chris Tanev comes in to replace Keith Ballard, they’ll be calling on a player who two years ago was finishing up a Jr. A career in Ontario and last season played with a weak Division I program in the NCAA.
While it’s not expected Bieksa would play on a regular pairing with Tanev, the absence of Ballard means Bieksa will essentially be playing with his fourth defense partner of the final, having already played with the injured Dan Hamhuis, the suspended Aaron Rome and Ballard. It’s expected if Tanev plays, he’ll be put on a third defense pairing with Andrew Alberts that would see limited action, with most of the heavy lifting falling to Bieksa, Alex Edler, Sami Salo and Christian Ehrhoff.
Hamhuis, who injured his ankle while hip checking Milan Lucic in Game 1, will make the trip to Boston for Game 6, but Canucks coach Alain Vigneault would not confirm whether he will play.
“A different partner every game is obviously not ideal,” Bieksa said, “but there’s no time for a learning curve. We move on tonight and make the best of it and it comes down to all six of us on the back end being better.”
They are not alone, of course. There is probably not one facet of the Canucks game that doesn’t have to be better if they have hopes of getting back into the series. A power play that was the league’s best in the regular season and one of the best in the first three rounds of the playoffs has gone inexplicably dry, going 1-for-22 in the first four games of the final. Goalie Roberto Luongo posted an .872 save percentage in the two losses. (There was a joke going around Vancouver on Friday that went something like this: “What time is it? Twelve past Luongo.”) And you could argue the Canucks would have saved themselves a lot of money by not even sending their top two lines to Boston for the contribution they ended up making.
The lack of production in Boston from the Sedin twins – they had just six shots in the two games between them - prompted TV analyst and former Bruin player and coach Mike Milbury to dub them Thelma and Louise. If Milbury recalled the 1991 classic of the same name, he might recall that Thelma and Louise were nothing if not courageous. At one point in the movie Louise kills a man who threatens to rape Thelma and the two drive over a cliff in a Thunderbird convertible to end the movie.
“Tough women. I like it,” said Daniel Sedin, who said he thinks he has seen the movie. “We’ve been called a lot worse than that. I mean (Milbury’s) an expert, right?”
You mean with all the great trades he made as GM of the New York Islanders?
“Yeah, you’ve got to like what he’s done,” Daniel said.
The Canucks power play could use the same level of creativity at this point. In fact, it was suggested to Bieksa, and he didn’t disagree with the notion, the Canucks lack of success with the extra man has emboldened the Bruins to play more on the edge knowing they’ll likely be able to kill the penalties.
“If we’re not making them pay for their dumb penalties - and they’ve taken a lot of them this series - maybe they’re going to continue to do them,” Bieksa said. “There’s still time and we’ve got the guys who can make plays and we’ll do it tonight.”
Vigneault said he felt the Canucks power play was ready to break out before Game 3 and was reminded of that prediction after the Canucks morning skate. He said Thursday that he “lied” about that, but swore it would be better in Game 5.
“We all know that our power play has been one of our weapons all year long,” Vigneault said. “It’s kept the opposition honest. We’ve got some really skilled players who can make it work and go to the areas where it can work, and it’s been real good all year. Right now, obviously, we’ve run into a patch here of a little bit more challenge. But I’ve got a lot of faith in these guys, we’ve spent a lot of times looking at different options here and I think, like I said last game, I think tonight’s the night.”
The gamesmanship in what has become one of the more nasty Stanley Cup finals in recent memory, of course, continued. It was no surprise the Canucks claimed the Bruins were the guilty party.
“They’ve got a lot of real good players over there on their team after the whistle,” Bieksa said. “They must have had an expert come in and show them how to push a guy after the whistle. They’re good at that, but we’ll stay out of that part of the game.”
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog.
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