Same Old Canucks
For 82 games, the Vancouver Canucks tried to prove to the hockey world they'd learned their lessons and had changed their ways.
Then, in the first game of the playoffs, the Canucks went out and seemed to prove only they're the same diving, head-snapping crew that collapsed against the Boston Bruins last spring and made them a detested hockey club in much of Canada and the hockey industry.
Indeed, after a 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on the opening night of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Kings' official Twitter feed @LAKings seemed to rub it in and seize upon Vancouver's reputation by tweeting, "To everyone in Canada outside of B.C., you're welcome."
Nasty, and probably unwise bulletin board material.
But also true.
Vancouver's lousy performance was the biggest and boldest headline of the opening night of these playoffs, although a couple of other stories were noteworthy:
--The Pittsburgh Penguins blew a 3-0 lead and lost to Philly in OT 4-3 on a misplay by star defenceman Kris Letang. Key to the Flyer comeback was a badly blown, missed offside play that result in Philly's first goal and started the comeback.
--Daniel Sedin wasn't available to the Canucks, adding a new layer of controversy to the late-season hit by Chicago's Duncan Keith that ended Sedin's regular season and now is compromising his post-season. Keith received only a five-game suspension, returned to the Blackhawks lineup before the season was over and will be in the lineup when Chicago opens the playoffs in Phoenix.
NHL hanging judge Brendan Shanahan was way too lenient on Keith's cheapshot,and now the league is looking bad while Sedin deals with the very concussion issues the Bettman administration claims it is trying to deal with aggressively.
--There was an ugly moment at the end of Nashville's taut 3-2 series-opening win over Detroit. Predators defenceman Shea Weber, feeling he'd been illegally hit by Henrik Zetterburg, first punched Zetterberg in the back of the helmet then grabbed the Red Wing star and smashed his head into the glass.
With the NHL having backed off on tough supplementary discipline calls in recent months, few expect Weber to receive any extra penalty.
In sum, three games on opening night and lots of controversy and bad feelings all around. Good start to the second season.
In Vancouver, the Canucks dropped their fifth playoff game in their last six outings, and second straight on home ice, dating back to the Cup final against Boston.
Led by Mike Richards, the Kings pounded on the Western Conference winning Canucks and outplayed them by a wide margin. Vancouver, meanwhile, took a host of bad penalities, including a five-minute hitting-from-behind foul on winger Byron Bitz in the tradition of ex-Canuck Raffi Torres that knocked Kyle Clifford out of the game and could receive further scrutiny from league officials.
It was a night when the Canucks seemed to get back into the cheap histrionics that made them so disliked throughout the hockey industry last spring and led to their downfall. Ryan Kesler, as usual, led the way with some embarrassing dramatics, first getting away with an interference call on L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick on Vancouver's first goal, a play Kesler sold to the officials with one of his patented head snaps for effect.
The refs seemed to understand they'd missed one, and shortly thereafter Kesler was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for snowing Quick in his crease. Purely bush league stuff, the kind of things the Canucks weren't supposed to be doing anymore.
Later in the game, Kesler faked an elaborate tumble in the neutral zone that the officials ignored, then stuck his stick in Jarret Stoll's privates after the whistle.
No one seems to know why such a talented player gets involved in such nonsense, but Kesler made a strong statement on opening night that he intends to continue to try and get away with the same garbage that didn't work last spring against the Bruins. By the third, Alex Burrows and Henrik Sedin were diving again to try and draw penalties. The Kings, meanwhile, just played through it, with Richards delivering the punctuation mark on the night with a devastating open ice hit on Burrows.
Dustin Penner, he of the pancake injury, potted the winner late in the third to snap a 2-2 tie.
For Vancouver, all those penalties and all that nonsense was a big surprise. Unless the Canucks knock it off and fast, this could be a brief Stanley Cup playoff appearance rather than the beginning of another long spring run.