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Captain Kirk

Tuesday, 23.11.2010 / 12:00 PM / Features - 40th Anniversary
By Derek Jory
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Captain Kirk

During “The Run,” there was “The Goal” and “The Save.”

“The Save” made “The Goal” and “The Run” possible and the man behind it, Kirk McLean, relives it in his head as often as you and I.

At the 8:17 mark of the first overtime in Game 7 of the 1994 Western Conference Quarter Finals, McLean took breath taking to a whole new level.

The play started with Calgary breaking into the Vancouver zone on a 3-on-1 as Theoren Fleury led the rush down the right wing. With Canucks defender Jyrki Lumme scrambling to cover all three Flames, he was unable to take away a pass from Fleury to Robert Reichel, who had snuck in from the left side.

Reichel finished the tape-to-tape bang-bang play with a hard one-timer into a seemingly open net. Without super slow motion replay, we still might not know how McLean stopped it.

Captain Kirk sprang across the crease swinging his pads into the black hole to his right to kick the puck out with his foot. It was a save so unbelievable the red light went on and many Flames fans falsely celebrated the win.

“It was a reaction save, a two pad slide, that’s what it was,” said McLean, who finished Game 7 with 46 saves.

“You can read the play coming down, Theo had the puck on his off wing and Jyrki played it perfect and I just saw the pass come across. The two-pad slide is a desperation move, that’s how I got across and I was able to time it perfectly, extend and get lucky that Robert couldn’t get it up top shelf.”

It was the greatest save in Canucks history, the greatest save of McLean’s 14-year NHL career and the cherry on top of his masterful 10-year span in Vancouver, one that culminates with a spot in the Ring of Honour.

Prior to Vancouver’s game against the Colorado Avalanche on November 24th, McLean will become the second inductee into the Ring of Honour, a new initiative launched this season to celebrate and salute Canuck heroes who have made a lasting impact on the franchise.

Before Roberto Luongo, it was all about Kirk McLean.

A native of Willowdale, Ontario, who grew up idolizing Toronto goalie Bernie Parent and proudly sported his Maple Leafs jersey 24/7, McLean came to Vancouver as an unproven draft pick of the New Jersey Devils. He was traded to the Canucks prior to the 1987-88 season, alongside Greg Adams and a second round pick in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, for Patrik Sundstrom and second and fourth round selections in the ’88 draft.

It took all but one season for McLean to stake his claim to a crowded Vancouver net and a year later he finished third in Vezina Trophy voting. McLean wasn’t lying when he said it was just nice to be nominated as hearing his name linked to the Vezina boosted the then 23-year-old’s confidence and let him know he was ready and had the skills to play at an elite level.

Once the Canucks became a well rounded enough team to exit the Smythe Division cellar and make a consistent run at the playoffs, things changed in Vancouver. No longer were the Canucks pushovers, instead threats to win any game as they proved in 1991-92 and 1992-93 with back-to-back 40-plus win seasons and two division championships.

In 1993-94, Vancouver, the team and the city, came together like never before reaching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It was a true team effort in every sense, one spearheaded by the gaudy play of McLean.

“It was amazing. It’s something that you’ll never forget, an amazing experience with a big let down at the end, that’s the only downer is obviously that we didn’t hoist the trophy.

“It hurts…you think back to the whole run and even the final game, what could we have done to snatch that Cup. It came down to one goal and an unfortunate big fat post that kept it out and who knows if we went into overtime what could have happened because we were on a roll in overtime in that playoffs.”

The best of the rest

Other than “The Save,” three memories from “The Run” will remain with McLean through his years; the first came in the first overtime in Game 7 of the Western Conference Quarter Finals against Calgary.

“In the last minute Al MacInnis had a pretty good chance to score in the slot and I was able to get my glove on it and deflect it, I didn’t catch it, I just kind of knocked it over top of the crossbar. It was a close one.”

Fast-forward to an all-Canadian Western Conference Final in 1994 for McLean’s second memory, which is actually a pair of moments, each as delectable as the other. Captain Kirk recorded back-to-back shutouts in Games 3 and 4 to pave the way for a Greg Adams, Greg Adams, Greg Adams goal in Game 5 that sent the Canucks to the final.

“That was pretty amazing being from Toronto and all. Funny thing is that I always had lousy luck going into Maple Leafs Gardens, even in junior hockey, for some reason I never played that well there and it was just one of those special times where things all came together and it was part of that snowball we had going through the playoffs.”

McLean’s debut in the Stanley Cup Final, in New York nonetheless, counts as his third most cherished memory. Considering the netminder put in one of the greatest performances in franchise history, a 52-save clinic in a 3-2 win over the Rangers in Game 1 of the Final, that makes perfect sense.

“In every round what you try to do is at least steal a game in the opposition’s building, if you can do that then there’s a pretty good chance you may win the series. That’s what all goaltenders try to do is get a split in the visiting buildings and try to steal one game.

“That was a memorable one, especially because it was in the Big Apple with the whole kind of cloud that was hanging over the Rangers with their long drought that they were trying to end.”

McLean’s time in Vancouver ended without a Stanley Cup, but all Canucks fans have and will remember is “The Save” that led to “The Goal” that kept “The Run” alive.