In praise of Bobby Ryan

In praise of Bobby Ryan
"The biggest thing is just his poise and his hands are unbelievable. I played with [Evgeni] Malkin and [Sidney] Crosby, and those guys are probably the two best in the league. Bobby's hands are right with those guys... He's a superstar in the making, it seems."
---Ryan Whitney, former Ducks defenseman

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ducks at Vancouver, vs Canucks

Looking ahead at the Ducks' upcoming schedule, it isn't going to get any easier. Ducks exacted sweet revenge on the Oilers Tuesday night. But can they keep the momentum going to defeat Vancouver tonight? Could they hope to get those all important two points? With that Western Conference playoff run so tight, every game is important. Losing even one game could mean kissing the post-season goodbye.

Jonas Hiller has been so awesome in net; not to worry, he's going to attempt to continue his streak tonight in Vancouver. Another good thing because it'll be Roberto Luongo in net for Vancouver. Luongo is arguably the very definition of consistent. We need as consistent an answer as we can get against him. The history between these two clubs has been a long one, literally, this season. A thirteen-round shootout, a 3-on-3 OT win, etc... You know you're going to get your money's worth of hockey tonight.

Our Ducks are looking real good in the opening minutes. Erik Christensen, Sheldon Brookbank, and Mike Brown are holding tight on the forecheck. Christensen takes a big hit against the boards and big George Parros takes on the hitter. It's a good scrap early on in the game. We're definitely seeing playoff-style hockey here, there is a lot of energy and speed between these two teams. Both netminders have touched puck on great shot attempts within the first eight minutes.

The game's first power play goes to our Ducks for interference. Burrows was standing right on top of Hiller in the crease, his elbow knocking Hiller in the face. After taking a while to set up, our boys get a good circle of passes going. Teemu Selanne to Bobby Ryan, to James Wisniewski at the blue line, down to Ryan Whitney who's advanced forward from his blue line position, and back to Bobby. Retrieving it out of his skates, Bobby makes a shot on goal, which hits Luongo. Selanne catches the rebound and pitches it up high into the net to catpure the first goal of the game.

Is that power play hot or what???

Speaking of hot, I think we're finally seeing a beautifully crafted shutdown line. Coach Carlyle has been putting the team of Petteri Nokelainen, Rob Niedermayer, and Todd Marchant against the opposition's top scoring line and, since our boys are really melding and finding that chemistry, they've been absolutely vital to our recent Ducks' successes. Carlyle has them out now against the Sedin brothers.

On the very next shift change, our top line is out. Corey Perry, in his usual place in front of the opponent's goal crease, makes for an effective screen as my boy Bobby picks up a pass from Getzlaf and shoots it from the back of the left circle for the second goal of the night. The game is up 2-0.

What's that? Do I hear silence from this Vancouver crowd?

Shortly thereafter, the Canucks attempt to change the momentum of the game by engaging Brookbank in a fight. Both players land some doozies before the whistle is blown.

Unfortunately, the Canucks have it in them to bring it 2-1 off an offensive zone faceoff. Thanks to two players in front of Hiller, he never saw the puck before it went in.

Another slight to Hiller, on the next play, Brendan Mikkelson gets wrapped up with Burrows in front of Hiller's crease and his stick ends up clipping Hiller on his left ear, flipping his mask off and stopping play. Thank goodness Hiller is okay. I'm holding my breath as the Ducks can't seem to keep it out of their zone. Drew Miller manages an odd-man attack on Luongo, but is denied by plumbing. A tight circle forms in the Anaheim zone as the Canucks take turns shooting on Hiller. He makes some incredible saves but can't catch them all. A pretty play by the Sedin twins give the Canucks another goal, tying things up, 2-2.

When is this period over? At the one-minute mark, Getzlaf takes a highly questionable call for holding. That trademark Getzlaf scowl blazoned across his face, he argues to no avail and takes a seat next to Brookbank in the box. Argh, and then with nine lousy seconds left, the Captain takes an elbowing penalty as he falls on top of one of the Sedin twins. That penalty box is looking pretty crowded.

At least the Canucks can't score in nine seconds. We go into the first intermission tied, 2-2.

Ducks start the second period with a man-disadvantage, 3-5. Time for a major penalty kill. Wisniewski, gotta love him, puts his body in the way of the shooting lanes and blocks flying pucks twice. He pays the price and has to be walked back to the bench. It's reminiscent of Todd Marchant's block when he took a 100-mile-an-hour puck to the chest in the last game. Literally, our penalty kill is making devoted sacrifices in this playoff run. Ducks have players with heart, people, that much is true.

Somehow, no goals scored during that major man disadvantage.

But after the penalty dies, Burrows manages to bank a shot off Hiller who's spinning around in the crease, trying to follow the puck. It heads straight for the net. Canucks take the lead for the first time this game, 3-2.

Then another Duck penalty. It's against Selanne for interference. C'mon boys, let's control those penalties. We need to watch it! And the Canucks capitalize again, bouncing a puck off the inside of the pipe and into the net. Geezus, suddenly we're down 4-2. Those Sedin twins... Carlyle better find a way to shut them down cuz we have no chance here otherwise.

And now there's a fish on the ice. What the...?

Our top line is back out on the ice. Wisniewski is out there too, a good sign. Perry carries the puck up through the neutral zone, passing to Bobby who screams up toward the net, catching Luongo too far out in his crease. The big goalie can't turn on his heel fast enough to stop the sweet backhander Bobby sends into the net. His 28th this season! Ducks tighten the gap, 3-4, and the game isn't even half over yet.

The momentum has changed now, as our boys come even more aggressively against the Canucks. I wish it helped against the next goal that's quickly pushed into the Ducks' net off an odd-man rush.

But our Ducks recover quickly, pushing those forechecks. Ryan Whitney leads the next charge into the Canuck zone and comes right in front of the crease. He pops the puck at Luongo, and Perry capitalizes on the rebound. It's now 4-5.

Holy high scores, Batman!

I can only imagine what each of these goaltenders is thinking. They look absolutely exhausted, and the second period is barely half over.

And then, before the end of the second, an absolutely gorgeous play which begins with Mikkelson intercepting the puck in the neutral zone. He passes the puck up the ice to Andrew Ebbett and then flies into the slot where he picks up the puck again from Ebbett. Right as he's approaching the net, he hands off to Selanne, who puts the puck in net as Luongo is closing in on the short side. The play was fast, elegant, and beautifully executed. One of Mikkelson's finest moments. It's tied up, 5-5.

It almost feels slow, no more goals and we go into the second intermission tied 5-5.

The third period opens up, undoubtedly with both coaches stressing a need for stronger defense. We get a couple of great saves from both goaltenders in response. And then a fight between Brown and former teammate O'Brien. It's a glaringly unequal fight here, Brown is a lot smaller and can barely reach O'Brien. They tumble to the ice and take their seats for that five-minute rest.

It was at about this time that I got to Zitto's for the official Ducks watch party. Even though I got out of my work obligation an hour later than expected, I decided I'd still go because the Ducks weren't horribly losing. We were tied up 5 to 5. The end was bound to be exciting, and something I'd want to share with a room full of rabid Duck fans. When I got there, the Street Teamers at the door were surprised, "You're just getting here now? You've missed a great game!"

"Oh yeah, well, I've got it recorded at home. But I thought I'd drop by to share in the festivities."

"That's cool. And hey, you can still enter the raffle."

For the entire third period, play is up and down, back and forth on the ice. No goals. Maybe everyone is tired. Maybe we've used up all of the goals in this game. Maybe the defense has stepped up. There's also few penalties in this third period.

I spoke too soon. Pronger gets his stick into the midsection of a Canuck and gets a two minute penalty for hooking at about three minutes left in regulation. It's a nailbiter of a penalty kill and Marchant is nothing but beautiful through the whole thing. Hiller and the defense hold strong, no goals. In the remaining one minute, both teams pour on the energy.

It doesn't matter. This is a Ducks-Canucks game, remember? Overtime is almost always a given this season. Hiller makes a huge stop against a spin shot from Daniel Sedin. I don't know how he saw it, but thank goodness he did. Those of us at the Zitto's watch party are glued to the screens. The room erupts in cheers every time Hiller makes a save, every time our boys come up with the puck on a forecheck. And again, another huge save by Hiller as he catches a quick redirect right in front of the crease. I almost can't watch. The horn signals the end of OT and we go to a shootout.

Ducks have been doing well in shootouts lately. I know that the Canuck 13-round shootout of October 31 still leaves a bad taste in our mouths, but let's pray we can pull this one out.

First up, Demitra for the Canucks, who opt to shoot first. Lucky break for HIller, Demitra hits post.

Perry up first for the Ducks. He skates out real wide, and sneaks that puck right through the piehole. First goal, Anaheim!

Next up, Wellwood. Hiller waits him out and makes the block, sending the puck high into the air.

Second for Anaheim, Getzlaf. He attempts the deke, but Luongo stays with him and blocks his attempt.

The moment of truth. It's Burrows vs Hiller. And it's a glove save!! We're on our feet at Zitto's, high-fiving and knocking fists. It was a struggle, Hiller slipped up a bit, but our boys rallied and gave him a chance to make up for it. And he did, coming through beautifully late in the third, through overtime, and in the shootout. Two more points and a firm seat (at least for tonight) in the seventh seed. Well-deserved, boys!

The icing on the cake for me, I won the raffle at the watch party and am now the proud owner of a Chris Pronger autographed stick. W00t.


My Zimbio
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