The Canucks can do it, for real this time

Throughout the course of their history, the Vancouver Canucks have been looking for an identity. They have tried many different things: switching up jersey designs, selecting a goalie as their captain, and drafting super-twins. Often in retrospect these attempts to define (let’s face it, the “flying V” jerseys were garish, and needed to go) have come across kitschy or gimmicky. Now, nearly 40 years after the club’s first NHL season, the Canucks have finally found an identity based on how they play, not the colour of their jerseys.

Over the course of the past couple weeks, the Canucks have made a name for themselves by coming from behind to win hockey games. When trailing after three periods, the Canucks have won 37% of their games. This statistic is unprecedented considering the all teams in the league win at least 66% percent of their games when leading going into the 3rd period. Some argue that this statistic points to the fact that Vancouver doesn’t put in a full 60 minute effort, however, I think that being able to stage a comeback is actually the mark of a great team.

Take last year, for example. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings were the top two teams in the league, in terms of come-from-behind wins, and they met in the Stanley Cup Final. Only one Stanley Cup champion in the past ten years has come from a team that was not in the top 10 for come-from-behind wins: Colorado in 2001. Vancouver has a better win percentage when trailing after two periods than any of those championship teams, so I’ll do the math for you: the Canucks are the real deal.

Newly found comeback kid-identity aside, the Boys in Blue have also started wearing other hats reminiscent of past league champions. The Oilers of the 80’s (Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Jari Kurri were members of this team) were built around pure scoring. They benefited from Grant Fuhr's decent goaltending, but still had many goals scored against them. Because of their unmatched scoring ability, however, it didn’t matter how many goals they let in. The Canucks are not in the same class as the Oilers of the 80’s or this season’s Washington Capitals, who have drawn many comparisons to Gretzky’s Oilers, but their mentality has been the same: score the opponents to death.

Even though the Canucks have been built from the goalie out, their defense has not been as good on the ice as it is on paper. Luongo should be the defining force on the ice, but he hasn’t been this season – this leaves winning games in the hands of the forwards, who have stepped up admirably. This is a major departure from the early years under Alain Vigneault, when the Canucks were focused on being airtight defensively.

Another defining element of identity is playoff success. We remember the flash and dash stylings of Oilers dynasty in the 80’s because they were consistently successful, as were the defensively sound New Jersey Devils of the late 90’s and early 00’s. Vancouver may be starting to establish a distinct playing style, but unless they win a Stanley Cup, no one will remember that they led the league in come-from-behind wins in the 2009-10 season.

// Colin May

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