DETROIT -- On a white dry-erase board in the Vancouver Canucks dressing room at Joe Louis Arena, the words were hand-written in black: “To be the best, you got to beat the best.”
For the previous 23 games, every team that entered that visitors' dressing room failed in that charge. Not the Canucks.
Their 4-3 shootout win on Thursday night ended Detroit’s record 23-game home winning streak and pulled them within one point of the Red Wings as the best team in the NHL. So is the quote right? Is Vancouver now the best?
“No. We know there’s still a lot of work ahead,” Canucks forward Alex Burrows told ESPN.com minutes after ending the game by roofing a shootout winner. “These guys have won a lot of games. They had a remarkable streak that’s unbelievable, to win that many in a row on home ice. For us to be able to end it and play against one of the top teams in the league and end their streak -- we’ll take that.”
And it ended the way it had to -- with the visiting team pulling out everything necessary to emerge with a win. Daniel Sedin’s goal with 16 seconds left in regulation tied the game at three, with the Canucks running a set play they have in their arsenal for when there’s an extra attacker. But there’s no drawing up the kind of vision it takes to make a pass like Henrik Sedin did from below the goal line to Daniel, setting up the game winner.
“Hankie, I don’t know how he found Danny there wide open, but he turned and gave it right on his tape,” Burrows said.
Other teams have taken Detroit to a shootout during their streak, but it wasn’t enough. Having Pavel Datsyuk unavailable because of his minor knee surgery didn’t help the Red Wings, but Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo was perfect against the other Red Wings in the shootout, including a pad save on Todd Bertuzzi, who has consistently been one of Detroit’s most dangerous players in the shootout.
Luongo has seen enough of Bertuzzi’s slow approach on television that he was ready for it.
“He usually makes five or six moves and does something,” Luongo said. “I just tried to react as soon as he let it go and was able to get a chunk.”
Maybe it was the streak, maybe it was the two best teams in the Western Conference going toe-to-toe, but this game increased in intensity with each passing minute. Daniel Sedin said that as the game progressed the players on the Canucks bench started to realize what was at stake. A chance to end history.
And maybe prove something about themselves along the way.
Detroit and Vancouver are starting to create some separation from the rest of the Western Conference, with only the Blues keeping pace. San Jose is struggling. The Blackhawks are emerging from their funk but seriously took a hit in the standings with their recent nine-game winless streak.
Right now, it’s Detroit and Vancouver. And Vancouver walked away the winner. To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.
“The reasons these teams are at the top of the league is because they play like that almost every night,” Canucks forward David Booth said. “That’s a hard-fought game.”