Canucks' depth shines through in end
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The goal, the only one of the night, could not have been more fitting.
The dominant performance of the Canucks' second and third lines was the story for much of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, so it only makes sense that those lines combined for the game winner Wednesday night.
"I saw their line was changing, and I saw an opening to maybe go on the offense," Kesler explained. "I just chipped it by their D, held on it for a little bit. Saw Jannik. He made a great heads-up play to Raffi, and Raffi buried it."
And just like that, with 18.5 seconds to go in the third period, Rogers Arena was rocking, and the Canucks were on their way to a 1-0 series lead.
You just had a feeling Kesler was going to do something special. His impact got greater with each and every shift, especially in the third period. The Kesler matchup with Boston's top line was a nightmare for the Bruins. Kesler, Chris Higgins and Mason Raymond ate them alive.
You can forget all that talk about whether Kesler was 100 percent entering the Cup finals after sustaining what appeared to be a groin injury in Game 5 against San Jose.
"I think he probably answered those questions," Higgins said. "He logs a lot of minutes for us, and they're heavy minutes. He finishes his checks, wins his battles, he's a horse and he was again tonight."
Kesler led all forwards in ice time at 24:23 in Game 1, and the Team USA Olympian was noticeable on every shift.
"After watching him tonight, how do you think he is?" Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said, smiling. "He's a workhorse. Great second-effort play on that goal. That's what we expect and need from him every shift."
Kesler beat Johnny Boychuk on the key play, chipping the puck past him and deftly holding it just long enough to feed Hansen. That Hansen and Torres combined for the winner capped another outstanding night for the Canucks' third line centered by Maxim Lapierre. They dominated the San Jose Sharks in the previous round and were at it again on this night.
"Yeah, they were strong," Vigneault said. "They played the way we want to play: fast, north/south, took pucks to the net. They had some grade-A scoring chances. I really liked both Max and especially Jannik's speed tonight. Obviously there was a weapon. Raffi had a couple of nice hits tonight, obviously clutch at the right time."
Shift after shift, the Canucks' third line spent time in the Bruins' zone with an effective forecheck and cycle.
"For us, we feel like we've been gaining confidence throughout the whole series," Torres said. "I thought Jannik and Lappy had a hell of a third period to go along with a pretty solid game. For us, it's pretty simple hockey, getting pucks deep, trying to work their D. Like I said, our confidence is pretty high right now. But we know it's just one game; we got to carry that into Game 2."
Who knew Lapierre would have this kind of impact this spring? A trade deadline pickup by GM Mike Gillis in March, he was plunked on the fourth line when he arrived. Then, the unfortunate eye injury to Manny Malhotra forced the Canucks to elevate Lapierre. This is a team that still really misses Malhotra, especially in the faceoff circle, but Lapierre could not have been a better replacement.
"I'm not replacing Manny. Let's make that clear," Lapierre said. "I'm trying my best to try to play like him, but no one can replace Manny. He's an unreal leader for this team."
Blueliner Kevin Bieksa pointed to Lapierre's play as an example of how deep the Canucks are.
"It shows you the depth of our team when you can bring up Lappy from the fourth line, he steps in seamlessly and he does a phenomenal job," Bieksa said. "Tico and Yannick been awesome for us as well, and one of the main reasons we're here today."
As the Sharks found out in the conference finals, it's a mistake to look at Vancouver and worry only about the Sedins and Kesler. The challenge in stopping the Canucks runs deeper than that.
"That's the key to our success, is we can roll lines," Kesler said. "Every line's dangerous. Tico and Jannik and Lappy all played great games tonight."
For Torres, it just shows you can't ever give up in this game. He was largely unwanted last summer in the free-agent crop before the Canucks offered him a one-year deal worth $1 million in August when most free agents had found NHL homes. Less than 10 months later, he scores the winner in Game 1 of the Cup finals.
"Yeah, you know, it was a long summer," Torres said. "Obviously, the phone wasn't ringing off the hook too much. But everything happens for a reason. I've tried everything in my power to put it behind me. Had some great support along the way. Just in a very fortunate situation right now. For a chance to reach our ultimate goal, which is winning the Stanley Cup, it's been quite a ride."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.