The Canucks started their marathon road trip riding a high. They had points in six of seven games and were coming off a shutout of the New Jersey Devils and a convincing win over the Chicago Blackhawks. They were getting balanced scoring and great goaltending. Radim Vrbata had four goals in four games heading out on to the road. Jannik Hansen had five, including a hat trick against the Blackhawks. Alex Burrows, Chris Higgins and Nick Bonino had eight points if you include the first game in Columbus. Ryan Miller had allowed one goal in his two starts prior to the trip. Things were rosy but what about a seven game trip?
I am a firm believer from my playing days and years as a broadcaster that players are mentally prepared for five game trips and would almost prefer those but have a lot of trouble handling anything over that.
You go into the first game believing you are on a roll and breathing confidence. You want to get the trip started on the right foot. The Canucks were good in Columbus and patient. They looked like they believed they were going to win. It was close going into the third but they closed it out in style with a 5-0 win.
Game two was in Detroit, a tough place to play at the best of times but these were the best of times. Ryan Miller was coming off back-to-back shutouts and the team had a swagger. On a five game trip game two is the set up game. You have won the first and are setting yourself up for a good road trip or maybe even an exceptional road trip. With a seven game trip game two is just another rung in the ladder. It is hard to see the end. The Canucks were okay in Detroit but fell behind 2-0 in the first and could never recover. The line of Linden Vey, Shawn Matthias and Brad Richardson did all the scoring.
Game three of a five game trip is the make it or break it game if you have split the first two. The Canucks played well in Washington and got their power play going. They took advantage of some shoddy goaltending and beat the Caps 4-3.
My five game trip looks pretty good at this point. You have won two of the first three and have Sidney Crosby and the Penguins waiting for game four. The coach decides to start the back up so you have even more incentive to help him out and play well. Win this one and you have a great trip possible. Oh wait I am still thinking of this five game trip that is really a seven game trip. Eddie Lack is great and the Richardson line continues to roll. The Penguins were made to look ordinary and the Canucks were 3-1 a week into the trip. Only three more to go! What THREE more? There should only be one more and we would already have a winning record.
Now the mental part of the sojourn takes hold. There is still three games left and we play them in four nights. Toronto is always a media circus and they had been playing better. The Leafs were growing in confidence playing nothing but home games before they had to leave the ACC for the world juniors. Ryan Miller got the hook after four and even though the Canucks badly outshot the Leafs, they could not overcome the big deficit.
Now the record is three and two and doubts start to creep in. The second line had gone four games without a point. The team had two shutouts in the first five of the trip but had given up thirteen in the other three. We should be going home but no the Canucks had to play in Ottawa the next night. The Senators were struggling and were pointing fingers, especially at their coach. The Canucks had the start they wanted building up a three-goal lead, but ran into some penalty problems. Two five on threes and one power play goal and the Senators owned the confidence and the momentum. It is easy to feel sorry for yourself and almost natural to think the tide is turning. It is game six. The Canucks hung on and largely because of their goalie, Eddie Lack, got a point. Record is 3-2-1, okay let’s go home. No, one more.
Now it is the Canadiens who had lost three in a row on Jean Beliveau night. The Canucks to their credit looked like they were going to get a point but it was not to be. Ryan Miller was great but it was only fitting that on a night honoring the life of one of the greatest players ever to wear the blue, blanc et rouge, the Habs scored late and the fans could truly celebrate.
Heading out on this trip my broadcasting partner and I were saying 10 points would have been a good trip. Had this been a five game trip I believe the Canucks would have won in Toronto and headed home with eight. Instead they secured seven points and as coach Desjardins said post-game in Montreal, .500 road trips won’t cut it for playoff teams. Thank goodness the longest trip of the season is over.