25 years ago, the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers met in the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals. It was a defining moment for many Canucks fans, perfectly encapsulating the rapture and heartbreak of cheering for the Canucks in one seven-game series.
That series had it all: magnificent goaltending from Kirk McLean; electrifying rushes up the ice from Pavel Bure; an unlikely hero in Dave Babych; a dastardly villain in Mark Messier; clutch heroics through pain from Trevor Linden; a heartbreaking post from Nathan LaFayette. It’s hard to believe it's been 25 years (though not exactly 25 years; that would be a meaningless 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, which is emblematic of the Canucks for other reasons).
One of the elements of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final that I always thought was neat, was that the game-winning goals that sent the two teams to the Final each had an iconic play-by-play call that was just a repetition of the goalscorer’s name: Canucks fans will always remember Jim Robson’s iconic “Greg Adams! Greg Adams!” call, just as Rangers fans will never forget Howie Rose shouting “Matteau, Matteau, Matteau!”
Both goals even came in double overtime, for some extra serendipity.
This game between the Rangers and Canucks had much lower stakes. Neither team is making the playoffs this season and there are most certainly fans for both teams that secretly — or openly — would prefer their team lose as many games as they can to close out the season, hoping to improve their odds of winning the draft lottery and adding Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko to their respective rebuilds.
The Rangers have been upfront about their rebuild, sending a letter to their fans to make their intentions clear, then trading anyone that wasn’t nailed down for draft picks and prospects. They had three picks in the first round at last year’s draft and could have as many as four first round picks in 2019, depending on whether certain conditions are met.
The Canucks, on the other hand, have taken a different approach to their rebuild, making few trades for draft picks and instead focussing on reclamation projects like Nikolay Goldobin and Brendan Leipsic. They’ve trusted their drafting to turn up gems without additional picks and supported their youth with veteran depth.
We’ll see which approach works best. Which team will return to relevance the fastest? In a way, this is like the Stanley Cup of rebuilding: it’ll just take longer than two weeks to figure out which team will win. I’ll be watching, just like I watched this game.
- The unexpected hero of this game was one of those reclamation projects Benning acquired at the 2018 trade deadline: Tyler Motte. The Canucks are Motte’s third team, after he was traded away by the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets. In Vancouver, Motte has found a niche in a fourth-line checking role with his speed and effort, but has made minimal contributions offensively. Then, out of nowhere, a two-goal game. Who saw that coming?
- No, you didn’t see that coming. Stop lying.
- Even more unexpected than Motte scoring two goals, however, was Loui Eriksson getting scratched. The Canucks’ highest-paid player has plummeted down the lineup over the course of the season, but has found a role on the fourth line and been an effective penalty killer. Scratching the six-million dollar man sends a strong message and raises questions about what the Canucks plan to do with him in the remaining three years of his contract.
- Markus Granlund came back into the lineup for Eriksson after his own healthy scratch and wound up leading all Canucks forwards in ice time. That’s mainly because he played a ton on the power play in place of Elias Pettersson. More on that in a bit.
- The Rangers started off the game with some devious, underhanded tactics: they immediately put the Canucks on the power play with a high sticking penalty eight seconds in the game, knowing that the Canucks’ power play has been stinkier than Limburger. It worked: the Canucks had just one shot during the power play, a long snap shot by Alex Edler, but then the Rangers took it too far, giving the Canucks five power plays, including two five-minute majors. Even the Canucks are going to score at least one power play goal if you give them that much time.
- Jacob Markstrom wasn’t too busy, facing only 22 shots, but he was sharp when called upon, like a really nice carving knife that you only break out at Thanksgiving. For instance, when Antoine Roussel gave the puck away to Chris Kreider in the slot midway through the first period, Markstrom bailed him out like William H. Macy bailed out Felicity Huffman.
- Kreider got tossed from the game in the second period after a brutal elbow on Pettersson. Kreider chased Pettersson down on the forecheck, but Pettersson slipped the puck between his legs and attempted to step around him. That’s when Kreider needlessly swung his arm back and caught Pettersson directly in the face with his elbow. It was ugly and deserving of the game misconduct.
- With Pettersson in the locker room, Granlund skated on the top power play unit in his place for the five-minute major. He played give-and-go down low with Bo “Cap” Horvat to draw in two penalty killers, then Horvat fed Josh Leivo in the middle, who swung the puck around to Brock Boeser and he dropped to one knee to rip the puck past Lundqvist. It’s the kind of down-low play that we haven’t seen in a long time from the Canucks power play, and we didn’t see it again for the rest of the game.
That shot. 🤯— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) March 14, 2019
2️⃣3️⃣rd goal for Boes. pic.twitter.com/Gm1SxIn7JL
- That’s a vintage Boeser goal, if a player in his second season in the NHL can have anything considered vintage. It’s similar to hearing Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam on the Classic Rock radio station. It’s too soon!
- The Tyler Motte Show began midway through the second period. It lasted 11 seconds. It started with a superb stretch pass by Edler immediately after Kreider’s major expired. He sent in alone on the left wing, and he cut to the net, angled his body like he was about to shoot, then dragged the puck around Lundqvist on the backhand. It was a gorgeous goal on a great goaltender for the gritty grinder.
- 11 seconds later, Motte scored again, for the second-fastest pair of goals in franchise history, trailing only Gerry O’Flaherty. Roussel stole the puck on the forecheck and drove to the net, but his shot was stopped. The rebound popped out into the high slot and Motte stepped into it like Said the Whale steps into the darkness, drilling a slap shot into the top corner.
Tyler Motte beats Lundqvist again right away for his 2nd of the game to make it a 3-0 #Canucks lead.— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) March 14, 2019
On the play, Antoine Roussel takes a hit to the head from Brendan Lemieux. Roussel went to the Canucks room while Lemieux was given a 5 minute penalty and a game misconduct. pic.twitter.com/qfy9ggQWVU
- Unfortunately, Roussel’s season ended with his assist on Motte’s goal. Roussel lost his footing as he drove to the net and ran directly into Brendan Lemieux, causing him to go down awkwardly on his right leg. That bent his knee in an unnatural direction and he had to be helped off the ice. He won’t be back on the ice for the Canucks until next season.
- Lemieux got a match penalty for the hit on Roussel, which seems bizarre. It’s hard to imagine what Lemieux was supposed to do when Roussel ran into him: it was utterly unexpected and it’s understandable why Lemieux reacted the way he did. It had a very unfortunate result, but it seemed like a two-minute minor at most, which would have been wiped out by Motte’s goal. Instead, Lemieux was done for the game and the Canucks got another five-minute power play.
- Pettersson didn’t return until after the second five-minute major expired, which helps explain Granlund’s massive ice time this game, though it doesn’t really explain why he was the guy Green chose to replace Pettersson in the first place. I guess Green didn’t want to mess up his second power play unit, even though the power play has been working about as well as a Coinstar kiosk for the past couple months.
- On the positive side, the Rangers’ power play has also been terrible. It’s just math: multiply two negatives together and you get a positive. The Rangers got a lengthy 5-on-3 in the third period and called a timeout to get their strategy straight. Somehow, they still only managed one shot on goal with the two-man advantage.
- The Rangers still managed to get a power play goal to ruin Markstrom’s shutout bid. Stecher and Motte were unable to connect on a clearance attempt and Tony DeAngelo kept it in. As the penalty kill scrambled back into place, Mika Zibanejad set up Pavel Buchnevich in the slot, and his shot nicked Chris Tanev on its way into the net.
- Heading into this game, Jake Virtanen hadn’t scored a goal since February 2nd. In his second game back from injury, he drove Canucks fans to drink, but in a good way. As he skated in on an empty net, John Shorthouse asked, “Are you thirsty?” He might not reach 20 goals, but #ShotgunJake is alive and well.