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A Fight to the Bitter End

by Sunny Dhillon / Vancouver Canucks
The only thing missing Saturday night was Don King and few bikini-clad ring girls.

Vancouver’s first regulation win against a Western Conference opponent in 2008 was overshadowed by 14 fighting majors and 193 minutes in penalties. 125 of those minutes came after Edmonton Oilers forward Jarret Stoll gave Canuck winger Alex Burrows an unprovoked cheap shot with 40 seconds to play. Burrows had just made it 4-2 Vancouver.

“[I was] just celebrating and Stoll came over to cross-check me for no real reason,” said Burrows. “That’s why I just reacted and slashed him on the shin pad.”

From there, all heck broke loose.

Ryan Kesler, Mike Weaver, Luc Bourdon, Trevor Linden, and Willie Mitchell all dropped the gloves for Vancouver. Sam Gagner, Curtis Glencross, Zack Stortini, Matt Greene, and Kyle Brodziak countered for the Oilers.

The most spirited of the bouts came from Weaver and Glencross. In a long tilt that left both men gassed, Weaver landed a number of hard rights and staggered his Oiler counterpart. As Weaver skated to the bench, the sellout crowd rose to its feet in his honour.

Captain Markus Naslund, who had a goal and an assist and was the game’s first star, said it was important for his team to step up to the physical challenge.

“I think they’re trying to send a message and I think we answered it,” said Naslund. “I think it was evident that it was going to be a battle. It was going to be a challenge for us. I thought we did a good job.”

Henrik Sedin added that his teammates won’t be intimidated by anyone.

“If they want to fight, I mean we’re not going to back down” said Henrik. “It’s not something that they are going to scare us or anything.”

Goaltender Roberto Luongo, who made 24 saves, joked that he was eager to get involved in all the fisticuffs.

“Yeah I was dangling my gloves, but I don’t think [Oilers goaltender Mathieu Garon] wanted to go,” said Luongo. “I’m just kidding. Obviously if I had to come to the aid of a teammate, I probably would have went in there, but there’s no use for me to get involved in stuff like that.”

The two coaches had no regrets.

“It was just two teams playing hard,” said Oilers bench boss Craig MacTavish. “Good aggressive hockey. Both teams realized how important the game was and quite clearly from the outset it was going to be a physical game and that’s the way it ended. I was fine with that. It’s just hard-nosed hockey. Those things happen.”

“Well obviously physicality was part of their game plan,” said Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault. “I thought we responded it to it really well. We did what we had to do in the tough areas to get the plays done.”

While no one could have predicted the powder keg that erupted with less than a minute to play, the game was very chippy throughout.

Byron Ritchie and Stortini took roughing penalties just eleven seconds in. Matt Greene decked Ryan Kesler with an elbow to the head five minutes later. And Daniel Sedin took a goaltender interference penalty less than a minute after that.

“You got two gritty teams that wanted to get the win and you know, there’s bound to be a very enthusiastic game when two teams come together like that,” said Stortini.

Things took a particularly nasty turn early in the third when Matt Cooke belted Mathieu Roy into the boards on the fore check. Although Cooke's hit was shoulder-to-should and no penalty was issued on the play, the Oilers felt it was a hit from behind.

“I guess the explanation was [Roy] knew [Cooke] was coming,” said MacTavish. “So I guess that makes it okay when you run a guy right from behind in the numbers. I thought the officials did an alright job tonight, so I’m not going to be overly hard on them but a play like that is something certainly that needs to be called. It’s a blatant hit from behind on Matty. Maybe he’s responsible for putting himself in a better angle going to the boards, but that’s the rule – you can’t run somebody from behind and he obviously did that in everybody’s estimation. I really didn’t see the play until I came in here and saw the replay and it was bad.”

As rough a game as it was, Vancouver got what it needed: the two points that vaulted them back into a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

“It was a hard fought game by two competitive teams,” said Vigneault. “And what was important for us is to get two points and that’s what we got.”

4 – Hits for Matt Cooke to lead all Canucks.

9 – Points in six games for Henrik Sedin against Edmonton this season following a three point night.

23-6-2 – Record for Vancouver when it scores first.

100 – Career games against the Oil for Trevor Linden (36 goals, 83 points).

The offense was up to its usual tricks, generating chance after chance yet failing to score, particularly in the second period when Vancouver could have put Edmonton away.

The defense had a number of breakdowns. On both Edmonton goals, Oiler forwards found themselves unmarked in front of the Vancouver net. And Luongo had to make half a dozen great saves just to keep his team in the game.

The PP took advantage of a second period 5-on-3 but failed to connect on two third period chances when, again, they could have put the Oil away. The PK wasn’t called to duty very often but was excellent when Edler went off for holding with less than four minutes to play.
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