Brodie & Kevin: Wingels the unsung hero of Game 1
VANCOUVER – Officially, Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle was on the receiving end of five of the 40 hits dished out by Vancouver players in Wednesday night’s Game 1.
Combined with nearly 20 minutes of ice time in which he seemed to be skating with a target on his sweater, it was a simple yet fair question – how are you feeling, Dan?
“I feel fine, I feel great,” Boyle said. “As long as nobody gets hurt or injured, it’s fun. Both sides are talking about wearing the other guys down, especially the d-men are usually the focus. D-men go back and get the puck, both sides are going to tell their forwards to finish. I expect it for the series and going forward, and we need to do the same.”
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan wasn’t surprised that Boyle was often on the receiving end of some big hits.
“If you’re their team, that would make sense, wouldn’t it? You would try and go after him. … When you’re on the ice more you get exposed more to physical play,” the head coach said.
The Sharks kept their heads about them, both literally and figuratively, and after absorbing 37 hits in the first two periods they took just three in the third. Coincidentally, or not, San Jose scored two goals in the final frame to take Game 1 and an early series lead with a 3-1 win.
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The Sharks had the advantage in the first period thanks to a pair of effective power plays that didn’t convert, while Vancouver outplayed them in the second. On Thursday, McLellan said he made a few changes between the second and third periods, perhaps to avoid the heavy Canucks forecheck that had been pretty effective through 40 minutes.
McLellan said: “For us, it was an evenly played game after two. … We made a few small adjustments; we thought they were almost over aggressive at times with their forecheck. Sometimes when you’re overaggressive you run out of position, and it leaves some ice open.”
He indicated that the Canucks played a bit of a different game than the Sharks are used to seeing.
“They had a dump and chase game going. They laid pucks in and they were going to come, and run. All of their lines were doing that. The Sedins, the [Ryan] Kesler line, and lines that would normally maybe make some plays, were really trying to get in on the forecheck.”
It’s difficult to pinpoint any one area of the game that the Sharks were deficient in. The power play scored a goal and looked dangerous on three of its four chances; the penalty kill was 2-for-2; the defensive zone coverage was strong, and the goaltender made saves when he needed to; and five-on-five the Sharks outscored Vancouver 2-1.
The Canucks are likely to come out even harder in Game 2, though, to avoid what might be an insurmountable hole considering how well the Sharks have played at home.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic said: “They want to do well in their building, and tomorrow night they’ll be even better than they were last night. We’ve got to match that intensity.”
“We expect them to be better, and we’re going to have to be better, as well,” Boyle said.
How do you counter the effort the Canucks are likely to give?
“It’s will,” Boyle said. “It’s little times in a game or on a shift where it’s that little extra stride that sometimes you cheat on. You almost have to mentally remind yourself to not cheat. To me, the word ‘will’ may mean different things to different people, but that’s the key to winning.”
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Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault didn’t seem concerned with his team’s ability to bounce back. That doesn’t mean they don’t have to make some changes, though.
“Our players, in my mind, are battle tested and pressure tested,” Vigneault said. “But at the end of the day, it’s about making plays. Right now what we need to do is we need to make more plays out of our end to get through that neutral zone better.
“At this time of the year the goals that are being scored five-on-five are on second, third and fourth efforts. Battles in front of the net. We need to do a better job there.”
Antti Niemi made 29 saves, but wasn’t tested nearly as much as Roberto Luongo on the other end. Niemi credited the Sharks’ play in front of him.
“I think we did a good job in front of our own net and in our d-zone,” Niemi said.
“They’re going to want to have the home win and they’re going to come hard, early. We’ve got to keep playing well in our own zone.”