On a day where it was easy to laugh about the NHL playing an outdoor game indoors thanks to the (predictably) rainy weather in Vancouver on Sunday, somehow the Canucks managed to change the story.
In the Heritage Classic, the final game of the NHL's six outdoor/Stadium Series games this season, the contest didn't have that sense of pure joy we usually see in these special games. Sure, the Ottawa Senators looked to have fun, that's going to happen when you win a game like that 4-2 and also pick up two crucial standings points. But the Canucks and their faithful? Not so much.
The game started well enough for the Canucks as they hopped out to a two-goal lead in the first few minutes and made their offensive struggles of this season look like a distant memory but really things were souring before the game even began. Indications of how things would be on this day showed up in the introductions.
Before introductions even. It started on Saturday when John Tortorella curiously named Eddie Lack the starting goaltender for the game, not Roberto Luongo. Luongo wasn't happy about it and said as much. The fans weren't either and they said as much on Sunday.
When the Canucks came out and the starting lineups were announced, Lack wasn't received warmly by those in Vancouver. Not that it was anything against Lack, the boos in his direction were for Tortorella and/or were simply Luuuus. Lack was in a bind from the beginning.
After the Senators clawed back into the game by beating Lack for a couple of goals and hitting the post numerous other times, everything the Sens did was greeted with a reminder that Lack was playing, not Luongo. When the Senators went ahead for good on Cody Ceci's goal, the crowd chanted "We Want Lu!"
They didn't get him though as the Canucks stuck with Lack almost from start to finish, only pulling him for the extra attacker late. Lack is a smart enough guy to know the frustration wasn't because of him but in support of Luongo, still he heard the fans. It's fair to wonder how much it affected him if at all. It's never easy when the home crowd isn't necessarily behind you, regardless of their intent.
In his postgame session with the media, Tortorella stuck by his decision and said he'd do it again. He also said that he was doing his job.
“Lui's pissed … but I have to make decisions which I think will give our team the best chance to win.” - Tortorella. #canucks— Hosea Cheung (@hosea24hours) March 3, 2014
That might have been his aim but in hindsight it's easy to ask if that was actually the case; did Lack give them the best chance to win? Maybe if this were just another game given how well Lack was playing of late but this wasn't just another game. It was the Heritage Classic. Instead it was a distraction and a focal point when it shouldn't have been.
It was a subplot to the game itself and to the Senators' well-earned win, but a big one nonetheless, particularly with the history of goalie controversies and Luongo in Vancouver.
Of course neither Lack nor Luongo would have helped the Canucks sustain offense over the final 50 minutes of the game, something they didn't do a very good job of. It has been something that has plagued them for a while and seeing Daniel Sedin leave with an injury just made it worse.
That's not on the goalies and to blame the loss on the decision to go with Lack over Luongo isn't completely fair. Might they have won with Luongo? Yes, Lack wasn't at his best, but they could have lost just the same. Hindsight won't give us an answer to that query.
What the lack of culpibility on Lack doesn't do is change the fact that the biggest talking point wasn't another game in front of 54,000-plus fans that wasn't exactly in the elements but instead was the question about the Canucks' goaltending situation. Again. The spotlight still shined on the Canucks with the Heritage Classic in Vancouver, just not how it should have.