DALLAS -- Say what you want about the Canucks blue-line, and many people have this week.
Most of the commentary has included censored, four-letter words.
And with good reason. The Canucks defence, the highly paid foundation of the team, has been off-balance this season. Even at its best, it has looked awkward. Like the honour student who didn’t study for his mid-term. Oh, they can fake their way through an English essay, or the Northwest division, especially with that goaltending. But throw a quantum mechanics exam at them and watch them wilt.
There was no faking against the Blackhawks. The Canucks deep blue line, which some believe is among the best in hockey, was flat out exposed. And maybe the annual beat down by Chicago was the best thing which could have happened. They didn’t just want to bounce back against the Dallas Stars Thursday. They needed to.
“They are a very proud group, which is very talented and skilled,” Cory Schneider said. “The game against Chicago wasn’t the best, for everyone.
“(Against Dallas), they scored some big goals for us. They joined the rush. Defensively, they blocked a ton of shots. They made big plays at the end of the game with their sticks taking away backdoors there.
“I think they were really working hard.”
It showed. By the end of Thursday’s 4-3 win, Canucks defencemen had two impressive goals, and nearly a third. Alex Burrows had tipped in an Alex Edler blast to start the scoring.
“We take a lot of pride in our own end. We pride ourselves on being really good defensively,” Kevin Bieksa said. “We obviously gave up way too many chances against Chicago. We looked at the film. We watched all the breakdowns.
“I thought we were a lot better.”
It didn’t start that way. After a breathtakingly awful performance against the Hawks, head coach Alain Vigneault revamped his blue-line, changing all of the pairings. But the new group looked just like the old one. Bieksa chased the puck from behind. Dan Hamhuis fell, and went for a swim. Both gave Jamie Benn all the time he needed to sit back, twirl his way through the slot, and hit a bullseye over Schneider’s shoulder.
Just like that, 35 seconds in, appropriately enough, the Stars had a 1-0 lead.
“They came at us hard, and we couldn’t get the puck out along the wall,” Bieksa said. “Give (Benn) credit, he made a one-in-a-hundred shot. I don’t know if he could do that again.”
Bieksa’s goal later in the game was the most impressive. He was shockingly explosive as he jetted by Stars defenceman Philip Larsen, before nudging a backhand under goalie Chris Nilstorp, who looked as stunned as everybody else.
Jason Garrison’s goal was the most important. And the sweetest. It was Garrison who took the brunt of the defensive shakeup. He was moved to the third pairing with Keith Ballard. It worked. They had their down moments, but overall it’s as comfortable as Garrison has been on the ice this year. Asked about it later, he said it helped that he had played with Ballard in Florida.
Garrison’s stinger put the Canucks up 3-2 at the 2:36 mark of the third. The Canucks would not have that lead, however, without Schneider getting some payback on Benn.
The shift after Bieksa went electric and tied it 2-2, near the mid-point of the second, Schneider made the save of the game.
Morrow had picked Bieksa’s pocket at the top of the slot and found Benn all alone to the right of Schneider. Benn made a slick move, going to his backhand, and reached across the crease. Schneider stayed with him, stretching out. His save was was flat out robbery.
“I thought he was going to tip it, but sure enough he pulls it,” Schneider said. “Somehow, I swung my leg around and got a toe on it. It was a little bit of luck but I was able to stay with him.”
The Canucks did get a two-goal lead, which is generally white knuckle time. You just knew once Alex Burrows and the Sedins connected on a tic-tac-toe goal to put Vancouver up 4-2 in the third they were in trouble.
Sure enough, Morrow scored less than two minutes later after he stripped Ryan Kesler of the puck. But after Morrow’s goal, the Stars managed just two shots on net. That’s with a power play. Doing that in the final 13:47 against a team which is at home, desperate and down by one was the most impressive performance of the night.
“I think it was important for our team to put in a better two-way effort,” Vigneault said. “I think we did that, even though we started out on our heels. I thought the guys responded after that. They [Stars] got a break on that third goal, or it would have been a 4-2 game.”
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