The Goods: Mr. Hig shot
It wasn’t dull enough to make the Royal Wedding seem exciting, but compared to what transpired two nights ago, Vancouver and Nashville played molasses hockey in Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinal.
Then again, slow and steady wins the race.
The Canucks beat the Predators 1-0 Thursday night at Rogers Arena; Chris Higgins opened the scoring for the second straight series with his second goal of the playoffs and that, combined with a 20-save shutout performance from Roberto Luongo, was enough for Vancouver to take a 1-0 series lead.
The lack of goals made for a lack of drama for the most part, but that was to be expected between the Canucks and Predators. During a regular season four game split, in which each team picked up a single win at home and on the road, they combined for a meager 14 goals off a whopping 231 shots.
Then, out of nowhere, Nashville, a team that was tied for the fewest goals scored of any Western Conference team that made the playoffs this season, opened the first round tied first overall in goals for with 22.
Luongo ensured the Predators revered back to their old ways with an outing where he was as good as he needed to be.
Over the first 40 minutes the Canucks netminder faced 11 shots and according to a Mr. NoOne Thisismadeup, he nearly made a run to Tim Hortons for a double double in the 2nd intermission to prevent a further case of the Zzzs.
Then in the third Luongo thwarted nine shots, including a shorthanded breakaway from Mike Fisher, to lockdown his second perfect game of the post-season and second consecutive to open a series.
“We expected a tight-checking game, and that’s pretty much what we got,” said Luongo, who has allowed a single goal over the last two games.
“We’ve played these guys four times this year and they were all low scoring affairs and I thought we did a great job tonight for 60 minutes playing the way we wanted to play and winning the game.”
From the oh-my-goodness-I-can’t-handle-this-ness of Game 7 overtime, to a is-this-playoff-hockey atmosphere for Game 1, a big question heading into the opener of the best-of-seven was how Vancouver would respond emotionally.
Luongo, for one, said it wasn’t a factor and that a single day turnaround was enough for the Canucks. Getting up to play the Predators was a none-issue, there’s plenty to play for every playoff game.
“When we came into this season, we didn’t come in here to beat the Hawks, we wanted to take a run at the cup and we think we have the team to do it. Obviously it was very nice to win the other night, but that was only Round 1, we’ve got bigger and better things that we want to accomplish.”
Vancouver is a step closer to accomplishing their ultimate goal thanks to a massive Higgins goal, scored 12:14 into the second period – I shouldn’t say goal actually, it was more of a GOAL! NO GOAL? GOAL!!!
Kevin Bieksa fed Maxim Lapierre as he entered the Nashville zone and the flying Frenchman, using Victor Oreskovich as a screen on Pekka Rinne, sent a bullet pass to Higgins as he zipped down Main Street for a booming one-timer. The puck went in and out so quick the refs had to go upstairs to confirm it tickled twine.
“I thought it went in initially and then they kept playing and I just thought, alright, I don’t know what’s going to happen here,” said Higgins, who didn’t mind the delayed celebration.
“I thought I hit it off the back bar when I shot it, but I guess you never know, stranger things have happened.”
Added Higgins, on opening the scoring for the second consecutive series: “I’d like to get another one, but I’ll take this one tonight.”
A win is a win regardless of how it’s won, but the Canucks will certainly be visiting their power play before Game 2 as they went 0-for-5 and are now 1-for-21 against the Predators including the regular season.
On the flip side, Vancouver has killed off all 19 Nashville man advantages, which also includes the regular season.
Roberto Luongo earned the shutout, but Pekka Rinne stole the show.
Rinne was sensational making 29 saves in Game 1 and it took Vancouver 24 shots before beating the 28-year-old Finnish goaltender.
If the Canucks want to avoid sending every game this series down to the wire, which fingernail-less fans would appreciate, they need to find a way to solve Rinne.
That, like not burning toast if you push it down for a second toasting, is easier said than done.
“He played phenomenal, he made a lot of hard saves look real easy, even when we did a good job of getting guys in front of him, he was still making saves around bodies,” assessed Higgins. “He played a hell-of-a-game.”
Despite the single score, Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t disappointed with the output considering how on the ball Rinne was on this night.
"We had a lot more chances than a one goal performance. I'm really pleased on how we came out,” said Vigneault. “We played some real emotional hockey lately, I thought we came out with a lot of jump. We were assertive on the puck, we were assertive on the net. We just met a goaltender that was real sharp tonight.
“We need to do a better job of putting a little more traffic in front of him. Without a doubt, he was their best player on the ice tonight."
Both Daniel and Henrik Sedin moved into a tie for 2nd for most franchise playoff games played tonight; the Canucks and Predators have combined for zero first period goals through five games this season, including regular season; Maxim Lapierre’s second period assist was his first point of the playoffs; lifetime the Canucks are 30-17-3 against the Preds, which includes a 15-10-1 record at Rogers Arena.