Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Road Out of Vancouver

The longest road trip in NHL history has come to an end. Fourteen games in total and a shit ton of miles, kilometers, paces later and the Canucks have gone 8-5-1 earning 17 of a possible 28 points and taken outright control of the Northwest Division lead.

I think you could call that a mild success.

The Canucks were required to get out of town and hand over their diggs to the Vancouver Olympic Committee at midnight on January 27th, just a couple hours after they defeated the St. Louis Blues. With eight games before the break, and another six afterwards they left Vancouver for technically six and a half weeks, before they return this weekend for a back-to-back against Ottawa and Calgary. Speaking of back-to-backs, they had three on this epic road trip, (one before the break, and two after) in the compressed NHL schedule.

Let's take a look at how they did...

Pre-Olympic Swing
Jan. 30 at Toronto - WIN - Came back from a 3-0 deficit from the 1st period, to a 5-3 win featuring the Sedin show with four goal outburst in the 3rd. This of course before the newly revamped Maple Leaf lineup had reared its ugly head.

Feb. 2 at Montreal - LOSS - Lost a 3-2 game singlehandedly from the heroics of Jaroslav Halak in net for the Habs. Kesler scored with just a little over 5 minutes left to go in the third to make it a one goal game and keep it interesting.

Feb. 4 at Ottawa - LOSS - Luongo took the night off, while the Senators marched on to a 3-1 win, in what would be their last of an 11 game streak. Raycroft played admirably in relief against a hot Ottawa team in his first start in two months, but sadly hit the 100th career loss milestone.

Feb. 6 at Boston - WIN - Overcame a 2 goal deficit from the 1st period to win in a shootout. Mason Raymond had a nifty goal, and Pavol Demitra tied it with less than 5 minutes to go and then added the only goal in the shootout for the win.

Feb. 9 at Tampa Bay - LOSS - Marty St. Louis staged his protest of his Olympic snub by throwing together a three point night against the team from the host city. Two goals in the third, and a helper on Stamkos's goal in the first propelled the Lightning to a 3-1 win against the Canucks.

Feb. 11 at Florida - WIN - Roberto Luongo pitches his 4th shutout of the season with the Panthers hitting 6 posts throughout the game. The Canucks scored at even strength and short-handed in the second, and then added a power play goal in the third for a 3-0 victory over the Panthers.

Feb. 12 at Columbus - WIN - Andrew Raycroft gets his 1st win on the roadtrip in his second start, as the 'Nucks rally back to beat Jackets with a two goal third period. Mikael Samuelsson with the lob for the game winner in a 4-3 win.

Feb. 14 at Minnesota - LOSS - In the last day of NHL hockey before the Olympic break, the Wild took it to the Canucks in a 6-2 loss, an outright schalacking in the final game of the pre-Olympic swing. Canucks managed to finally net two in the third to keep it respectable. Speaking of respect, the Wild announced the Olympic members of both teams in a classy move that earned applause for all competitors.

Post-Olympic Trek
March 2 at Columbus - WIN - Defensive lapses in the first gave the Jackets a two goal lead from Columbus bullying their way to the front of the net in on Raycroft. The Nucks responded in the second tying it up at two with some big saves from Raycroft, despite going down a goal later in the period. But Wellwood tied it up at three with just over five minutes to go to force it to overtime, where Ehrhoff would net the eventual winner on a rebound for a 4-3 win.

March 3 at Detroit - WIN - In Luongo's first game in net since the Olympic break, the Canucks took a definitive lead in the second after a breakaway goal by Kyle Wellwood, which would be followed by two more for a three goal middle frame chasing Jimmy Howard in the process. Ryan Kesler with a two goal effort opening up the scoring in the first, and adding a power play goal in the third for a 6-3 win over the Wings.

March 5 at Chicago - LOSS - After handing out a 6-3 beating, they take one from what has now become one of their fiercest competitors after last year's second round series with Chicago. The Hawks had 5 goals on 14 shots in the first period to chase Luongo, and sit back on the comfortable lead from then on.

March 7 at Nashville - WIN - Down 2-1 going into the third, they needed a ten minute warm-up before they opened up the scoring and pot three goals to take a 4-2 win. Samuelsson ripped a shot past Rinne on the wing, Hansen got a rebound on his breakaway chance, and Henrik added an empty-netter.

March 9 at Colorado - WIN - Giving up a three goal first period, Samuelsson charged back with a hat trick in the second to get Vancouver back into it, and cut the lead to one going into third. They followed it up with a power play goal from Burrows in the third to tie it, followed by a lucky bounce off Hansen to take the lead. Henrik with the empty-netter to take a come from behind 6-4 win and maintain outright control of the division lead.

March 10 at Phoenix - SO LOSS - In a very close, evenly matched game, the final date on the roadtrip came down to a skills competition that required 12 shooters. Andrew Raycroft played well in his fourth game on the trip, making an incredible no-look save with the paddle in the first period. A goal for each team, each period led to a missed Mason Raymond shootout attempt for the Coyote win.

Six come from behind victories to lead the League with 10 on the season, on a road trip that provided red hot Mikael Samuelsson with his first career hat trick, gave silver-medalist Ryan Kesler his first video game cover, and undrafted Alex Burrows his 30th goal on the year. Pretty impressive for a team that had seven of their players honoring their countries in the Olympic Winter Games.

Everyone knew this trip would define their season, especially this late in the year, but I don't know if anyone expected this kind of success. While its not a remarkable record in that stretch, its remarkable that it was done on a roadtrip like this, where so many intangibles were achieved, and that's confidence heading into the stretch and onto the postseason.

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