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X's and O's - Follow the bouncing puck

by Jeff Angus / Vancouver Canucks
Thanks to the unbeatable combination of luck and skill, Shawn Matthias found the back of the net in Calgary on Sunday night for his first career playoff goal.

The Canucks couldn’t match the speed of Calgary for the rest of the night, but Game 3 was definitely the big winger’s strongest performance of the series to date.

The goal:

The breakdown:

The play started off with Dan Hamhuis bringing the puck past center. The Canucks had parts of two lines on the ice with Matthias, Radim Vrbata, and Nick Bonino up front. Hamhuis has been skating miles this series, but most of that has been in the defensive zone. Credit to the Flames for applying continuous pressure on the Vancouver defense and limiting their ability to move the puck in space.

Thanks to some great blue line straddling, Hamhuis gains the zone just as the three Canuck forwards do. This type of four man distribution across the zone is pretty rare, and Calgary’s confused positioning speaks to that. Both Matthias and Bonino make a straight line for the Calgary net while Vrbata settles in to set up a second wave of attackers.

Hamhuis has his initial shot attempt partially blocked, but the puck slides through to Matthias who gets his stick on it. This is where the fun (for everybody besides Jonas Hiller…) begins.

The puck, at this point, is flying through the air. Hiller has no idea where it is and tries to make himself look as big as possible. Vrbata has found some open ice behind Calgary’s defense and is in a great position to jump on a potential loose puck opportunity….

…Which he does shortly after. Hiller makes an incredible save on Vrbata here with his left leg, but the puck continues to pinball around the Calgary crease.

Matthias, who in the previous frame was circling behind the net, makes a quick turn to gain inside positioning on Calgary defenseman Kris Russell. Hiller makes his second great save of the sequence – a Dominik Hasek-like tilt-o-whirl with his right arm.

Fitting that a Canucks fan had the best seat in the house for the goal.

Here are a few more people who weren’t as close – but seem to be just as happy.

And a better view of the goal. As with most successful plays in hockey, it was a series of small things that led to the result. Matthias getting a stick on the partially blocked shot disrupted Hiller enough to get him swimming for the loose puck.

And Vrbata sneaking off to the right side allowed him to get a great scoring opportunity. I’m not sure if Matthias figured going behind the net would free him up to grab the loose puck, but it ended up being a great way to get rid of any potential defenders.

Here is Hiller’s sprawling save attempt from the reverse side. Again, notice Matthias getting inside positioning on Russell. This goal probably qualifies as an ugly one, but the move to quickly bring the puck from skate to stick is extremely difficult to pull off – especially when encircled by five opposing players.

The puck didn’t stay here on Matthias’s stick for too long.

Another view of Hiller’s great left pad save on Vrbata, who has yet to find the score sheet in this series.

Hiller looks like he just finished up at the Roman Cechmanek school of goalie positioning.

The Canucks were unable to generate many chances at even strength for the rest of the evening, and Hiller provided the Flames with the goaltending they needed to take back the series lead. Vancouver has to come out tomorrow night with a lot more desperation and get many more pucks on net if they have any hopes of heading home with the split.

However, the play they received from big number 27 on Sunday night was one positive sign as this series heads to Game 4.

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