“Right from the warm up you could tell that the building was loud and excited, kind of like a playoff game,” said Captain Markus Naslund.
The home crowd is always good to Vancouver, but if they ever needed a boost, Sunday night was the night. Coming into the game, the Canucks had suffered four consecutive regulation losses, and they were outside looking in on the playoff seedings.
If it wasn’t enough that Vancouver’s fans might be feeling a little glum, a nauseating number of Flames fans littered the stands to compete with the hometown crowd. When the Flames scored the first goal, a cheer could be heard from the stands. It didn’t seem like the start that would get the fans to their feet.
But when the Canucks fought back, and captain Markus Naslund ended up scoring a goal to tie the game at 2-2 with 0:41 left in the first period, the stage was set for Trevor Linden to churn out one of his best periods of the season.
He broke the tie less than two minutes into the second period when he took a pass from Byron Ritchie and patiently walked around a downed Kiprusoff to bury his sixth goal of the season. It would go on to be the game winner. But for insurance purposes, 4:59 later, Trevor potted his second of the evening, the first time he’s scored a multi-goal game in over five years.
“It feels nice to contribute offensively,” said Linden, who has sat out as a healthy scratch his fair share this year. “It’s nice just to get a few breaks around the net and get a couple.”
Alex Burrows was certainly impressed with Linden’s energetic spark tonight. “I thought Ovechkin was out there tonight for us,” said Burrows. “[Trevor] was just flying and playing well, playing with confidence… The fans really get a lot of energy out of it when he scores a goal it seems like. It was two great goals for us and that’s why we call him Mr. Clutch.”
With the game well in hand, it seemed as though the crowd wasn’t too concerned with cheering for the Canucks anymore – they wanted more Linden. Any time that Linden touched the puck, the crowd encouraged him to finish the game with a hat-trick, which would have been the sixth of his career.
On a third period power play, when a cross-slot pass made it to Linden’s stick and he made a deft touch-pass back to the point, the fans let out a disappointed, “Ohhh.” They wanted the shot. But despite the fans’ wishes and the coach’s intentions – Linden was on the ice for 7:37 in the third period, more than the first and second periods combined – he didn’t find the back of the net for the third time.
It didn’t leave the fans disappointed, as displayed after the game when Linden won first star honours. As he was being interviewed over the arena’s PA system to address the crowd on the jumbotron, the crowd drowned out his amplified voice to show their praise with a loud cheer. It took a couple of minutes for them to die down and for Trevor to be able to address the crowd. “It’s pretty special,” Linden said. “It’s always special to play in Vancouver. Tonight was fun.”
His teammates and coach echoed the crowd’s admiration. “Trevor got his two goals in the second period and gave us a lead, and we never looked back from there,” said Alain Vigneault. “We needed our leaders to step up, and he’s one of the key ingredients.”
The fact that such an impressive performance from Linden came in one of the biggest games of the year was certainly exciting, but not necessarily surprising. After all, it was Linden who played a major role in the playoffs last year, contributing seven points in 12 games. Among those were two game winners, including the goal that iced the Dallas series in game seven.
In the final three games, look to Linden to provide the same sort of spark. “Hopefully we can build off of this,” said Linden. “That’s the key. Our next biggest game of the year is Tuesday night.”