Commentary

GM's rant won't change Canucks' reality

Updated: April 26, 2011, 12:51 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- One of the world's most passionate hockey towns, where no other sport comes close to holding the same quasi-religious importance, is losing it.

Its team, the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks, has blown a 3-0 series lead and faces Game 7. Its opponents, the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, are oozing confidence and smell blood.

It's an ugly script.

Which is why, amid the background of a combustible city drowning in a sea of panic, Vancouver GM Mike Gillis played what he believed was his best move and stole a page from an old hockey playbook Monday.

Trying as much as possible to shield his players from the most intense pressure many of them have faced in their careers, Gillis commandeered the media spotlight and attacked the officiating in this series and put the focus squarely on him on the eve of what is the biggest game in his Canucks reign.

Think Wayne Gretzky and his famous rant, circa Salt Lake City, 2002.

Gillis even phoned Colin Campbell beforehand to warn the NHL's disciplinarian he was going to vent his frustration to the media. (Our guess is Campbell responded by saying the Canucks' GM was risking a fine.)

Holding a piece of paper with variations of statistics, Gillis pointed out a number of what he believed were glaring discrepancies in favor of Chicago when it came to power plays. Overall, the Hawks have had 27 power plays to Vancouver's 16 in the series. Gillis' frustration was more precisely within the past four games, in which the Hawks have had 22 power plays to Vancouver's 12.

"These are facts. They're undeniable," Gillis said. "The first two games, everything is relatively equal; the last four games, they haven't been. And when people seem to think we don't have the killer instinct, it's pretty tough to have the killer instinct when you're killing penalties most of the time.

"And when your team is not getting power plays -- our power play was No. 1 in the league -- theoretically we felt there were six or seven legitimate calls [infractions] that weren't called for whatever reason. That's six or seven power-play opportunities for us. It's going to change the outcome of the game."

Gillis certainly has a case for the non-call on Chicago's Bryan Bickell on Sunday, when he hammered Kevin Bieksa with a head shot that was nearly identical to when Canucks winger Raffi Torres drilled Chicago's Brent Seabrook earlier in the series. Torres got an interference penalty but quite frankly should have been suspended. Bickell didn't get a penalty at all.

"The Torres hit was determined to be an interference call. Their team called for him to be suspended for multiple games; all kinds of people called for him to be suspended for multiple games," Gillis said. "In my opinion, that hit last night [on Bieksa] was clearly a charging play. His head was targeted, [there was] the full whiplash effect from that hit, so the only contact was with his head initially. Minimum, it was a charging penalty."

OK, that was a missed call. But six or seven missed calls? We think that's stretching it a little.

Let's call this for what it is. Whether or not the Canucks are truly getting a raw deal on penalty calls, Gillis' rant was about deflecting attention from what has transpired here over the past week and his players being on the verge of a monumental collapse.

Asked whether his officiating rant was getting his players off the hook for their own play, Gillis didn't back down.

"Absolutely not. We've been in this together from day one," Gillis said. "I'm just giving you facts. I'm not allowing anyone off the hook. These are facts. If you have 100 percent power plays against you over four games, how many do you think you're going to win? We have to overcome it; we will overcome it. I'm completely confident in this group. But you also have to face the reality of what we're seeing. ... There comes a point where it becomes preposterous."

We're not going to debate the merits of the calls or non-calls. We haven't been around the previous six games in this series to get a close enough look. But if you're going to bring up a word like "preposterous," you better start with the possibility that the team that far and away was the class of the NHL all season is one loss from a brutal meltdown.

That's the real story here. And the players in the dressing room know that, too. Sure, they would have liked a few more power plays in this series, but that's not their focus heading into Tuesday night's Game 7. It can't be.

"We know Mike is dealing with the league and we're focusing on the game," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said Monday. "For us, we have to go out there tomorrow and play as good as we did last night, and I really like our chances."

"Maybe that's Mike's message to the league, but we know that we don't control the officiating," added Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. "We can only control the way we respond to it."

Luongo, by the way, is getting the Game 7 start. Shouldn't that be the story? Not on this day. Gillis made sure of that.

If his team wins, the GM will be seen as brilliant for his rant. If the Canucks lose, bad officiating isn't what people will remember from this series. It'll be looked as one of the greatest collapses in NHL history.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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