Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pavel Bure's Top 10 Goals as a Vancouver Canuck

Today's article is the first of a 10-day series chronicling Pavel Bure's career in anticipation of his jersey retirement on November 2.

Consider it "Bure-mania", re-lived. Ten days from now, Bure's iconic number will be raised to the rafters, ending more than a decade of divisiveness regarding the Russian Rocket's place in Canucks history. YouTube montages, engage!

There is no shortage of online videos by which fans can re-experience the brilliance that was Bure's career in Vancouver. Nonetheless, BTD would be remiss if we didn't contribute something to the collection (you could literally spend hours watching quality highlight reels dedicated entirely to Bure), as endless and as saturated as it may be.

Of the videos currently out there, TSN's Top 10 Bure goals, uploaded by several different users, has hundreds of thousands of views. And as much as I love TSN's nightly countdowns, a revised edition of Bure's best goals is sorely in order.

For one, whoever decided that this goal is Bure's sixth-best of all-time clearly didn't do his homework. More importantly, however, TSN's highlight package features goals during his tenure with both the Panthers and the Rangers. And rightfully so. Their compilation was in honour of Bure's entire NHL career. But for jersey retirement ceremony purposes -- a celebration exclusive to the team honouring a player -- these inclusions aren't going to cut it for the diehard Canucks fan killing time at work or procrastinating an essay. Those shots of him in Panthers red and -- of all the crimes against humanity -- Rangers blue are nothing less than painful reminders that the organization's relationship with our most exciting and skilled player of all-time is only now being repaired.

On the other hand, if you're intimately familiar with Bure's seven seasons in Vancouver, you know that it is impossible to highlight just ten of his goals. Practically every other goal, in today's parlance, would have qualified as an 'Honour Roll Candidate'. And Bure's goals were not only ridiculously laden with talent, they were significant and impactful to the team's success. In other words, it doesn't stop at Game 7 versus the Flames. Not even close.

So with that, as presented to you by BTD, please enjoy Pavel Bure's Top 10 Goals as a Vancouver Canuck!

10. Game 7 effort vs. St. Louis (May 19, 1995)

If Bure's Game 7 winner against Calgary had a younger, ubiquitously overlooked younger brother, this would be it. It's like something out of a time warp and you have to scour the darkest corners of YouTube to find it -- let alone a version with Russian play-by-play. A year after '94, the Canucks are playing another series-deciding game in the opening round. Enter Bure on a breakaway, deking out another all-star goalie. Nyet, Cujo...Nyet. Featuring the Russian Rocket's trademark explosiveness, Bure picks the puck from his own blueline with the two St. Louis Blues defenders still in front of him. With that much ice in front of him, by the time he dekes past Curtis Joseph, he is more than several strides out of Al MacInnis' reach.

Granted, it's not as if this goal is parlayed into a Finals run, a la Bure-Vernon, but a breakaway goal in Game 7 is about as significant as they come. Adding an empty-netter in the final minute, his efforts here against St. Louis represent just one of many examples highlighting Bure as a big-game player. And while 1995 may have been a rather anti-climactic run by previous year's comparison, Canucks fans could at least take solace in the fact that they returned the Game 7 favour to Mike Keenan, who was in his first year with the Blues.

9. Out-waiting Moog vs Dallas (May 4, 1994)

Again, Bure makes an impact in a playoff game. Up one game in the second round against the Dallas Stars, Bure scores twice, including this effort, to put the Canucks up 2-0 in the series. As with many of the goals in this compilation, it's not as if Bure is taking on a lesser defenceman in this play. That's six-foot-five Derian Hatcher that he drops a shoulder into, withstanding a wicked, Duncan Keith-like slash. Bure then out-waits another All-Star, Andy Moog, before roofing it into the net. Pure joy ensues.

Of significant note: This goal occurred in the same game that Bure gooned the Stars' most feared player, Shane Churla, with the proverbial "mother of all elbows." According to a post-game interview, Quinn, with tongue in cheek, declared that Bure was "inspired." A mere five-hundred dollar fine ensues. Churla, meanwhile, spent his remaining five seasons in the NHL struggling to stay in the lineup with both inferior play and what can only be presumed as severe post-concussion syndrome. Oh, the nineties...

8. Airborne celebration vs. Toronto (May 20, 1994)

One round later and Bure remains at a torrid pace. In just his 15th game of the '94 playoffs, he scores his 11th and 12th goals, including this effort against Toronto. After a failed breakout pass from Trevor Linden, Bure's speed forces veteran Bob Rouse to misplay the interception. As with the previous two goals in this countdown -- and so many others in his career -- once he skates onto the puck in the neutral zone, Toronto's defenders do not stand a chance. Neither does Felix Potvin, as Bure roofs it before proceeding to go Bobby Orr in his celebration. Bure's ends the night with three points, leading the Canucks to a 4-0 win and a 2-1 lead in the series.

7. Splitting the defence vs. Winnipeg (April 23, 1993)

Another playoff goal. There are a bevy of quotes among hockey analysts that try and summarize what Bure's skill was like. Stan Smyl, whose number will soon be joined by Bure's, once offered the following sound bite: "Some of the things that Pavel did at a high speed, I couldn't do walking." And while Smyl wasn't exactly known for his skill in anywhere near the same way Bure was, that quote would make sense coming from virtually anybody. The seventh goal of the top ten exemplifies this perfectly. (Extra points for receiving the pass from Dave "Moustache" Babych.)

Bure goes backhand-forehand at a speed that allowed him to carry the puck around Teppo Numminen virtually untouched. With five minutes remaining in the third, the goal put Vancouver within one. Despite losing Game 3, the Canucks went on to eliminate the Jets in six games on the strength of Bure's 4 goals and 3 assists.

6. One-hander at the blueline vs. Edmonton (1995-96)

Given the celebration surrounding Bure's number 10, it almost seems sacrosanct to include a goal from his days with 96 on his back. First, a quick digression on those two injury-plagued seasons with 96. Bure had originally requested the number as a rookie, but Pat Quinn held a strict policy against such numerical ostentatiousness. Well, Bure ended up being a rather ostentatious player and when the Canucks acquired Alexander Mogilny, who had already established a career wearing 89, there was no more reason to prevent Bure from wearing 96. (Stay tuned for a subsequent article on the history of Bure's number 10 for more details on his tenure with 96.)

Back to the play. By comparison to his first few goals in this countdown, the stakes are significantly lower in this game against the Oilers. But this move at the blueline is too good to not include it. Attacking a loose puck, Bure catches former teammate Jiri Slegr flat-footed at the blueline. With Slegr turned around, Bure one-handedly drags the puck through the Czech defender's skates. Then when it seems like he just barely has control at the right hashmark, he dekes Bill Ranford about as badly as a goalie can possibly be deked. Freeze the frame at 2:02 of the video and just look at Ranford's posture as the puck is sliding into the net. Be outraged.

5. Spinorama vs. Los Angeles (May 5, 1993)

Aand the countdown sees a return to Bure's playoff heroics. It's Game 2 of the Canucks' second round series against the Kings and oh, look! It's our good friend Jiri Slegr. Once more, Slegr does good by the Russian Rocket -- this time, as a Canuck, however. Slegr's pass stretches from the Canucks' own blueline to to centre ice, hitting Bure at full stride.

Despite a full-fledged can-opener from Mark Hardy, Bure spins to his backhand and with arms fully extended, deposits the puck just past Kelly Hrudey's left skate. Move over, Mason Raymond. The Canucks would end up dropping the game 6-3 to even the series, which inevitably went to the Gretzky-led Kings.

4. Skate-to-stick vs. Boston (September 25, 1996)

Again with the 96 jersey. Sacrosanct number or not, however, I'm pretty sure that most people would have this effort higher on the countdown. I thought about ranking it lower, simply because it is a pre-season goal, which is just a couple steps above Bure trying this move in say, a team scrimmage. Nonetheless, the creativity and the speed at which it occurs is nothings short of magnificent. You will, in fact, remember Zack Kassian recently demonstrating just how difficult it is to do while nearly standing still. "I did it without thinking," noted Kassian after the failed attempt. You wouldn't be surprised if this was something that Bure simply did haphazardly, as well.

So far, we've seen Bure go to the backhand, backhand-forehand, forehand-backhand, as well as roof it and finish a spinorama on his breakaways. But it's this goal that best illustrates the arsenal of moves that Bure had at his disposal. Alternatively put -- and with no disrespect to the Canucks' current winger -- Bure ain't no Alex Burrows.

3. Coast to coast vs. Los Angeles (December 31, 1992)

Outside of Bure's breakaway prowess, he had an incredible knack for stickhandling in traffic. Case in point is this solo effort against the Los Angeles Kings midway through the 1992-93 campaign (don't let those centennial Stanley Cup patches fool you, as they did me -- this is a regular season game). Take note that the main defender that Bure walks around on this play is none other than Paul Coffey, who also happens to be known as one of the best-skating defencemen in league history. Not that you would have known it here, as Bure makes a pylon of him on his way to a backhand deke past Hrudey.

The goal marked his 31st of the season in what was only his 36th game (he added another later in the contest for his 32nd). Consequently, Bure was in strong contention for the rarefied 50 in 50 mark. Maintaining the pace to reach 44 in 48, he inevitably fell short of the mark as part of a five-game drought in late-January. Bure inevitably reached the 50-goal plateau in his 63rd game.

2. Solo effort vs. New Jersey (January 29, 1994)

As far as I'm concerned, this goal stands alone among Bure's solo efforts. Nonetheless, let it be noted that in today's NHL, the play would have likely been blown dead on account of Evgeny Namestnikov's blatant pick on Scott Niedermayer. (For the purposes of this countdown, I fully believe that he was well on his way of shaking Niedermayer, much in the same way he did to Coffey in number three.)

At any rate, what follows is simply unreal. Rarely do you see a forward move past a defenceman standing right in the slot as deftly and as quickly as Bure does here. And if you're quick enough to notice, the defender in question (number four in red) is no less than perennial All-Star and Devils captain Scott Stevens. As if the play couldn't get any more ridiculous, Bure dekes Chris Terreri out with the exact same move.

Backhand-forehand, triple deke. Which bring us, of course, to number one...

1. Bure's Triple Deke vs. Calgary (April 30, 1994)

Greg Adams' overtime goal against Toronto. Kirk McLean's 51 saves in Game 1 against New York. Trevor Linden's two-goal effort in Game 7. As iconic as they are in the Canucks' 1994 run, neither of them would have been possible if not for Bure's triple deke (*ahem*) against Calgary Flames goaltender Mike Vernon. Unanimously, it is Bure's most recognized and impactful goal in a Canucks uniform. Everything about the goal is surrounded by both an improbability and a significance that ranks it among the greatest in Canucks history. If not for Burrows' Game 7 goal, it wouldn't even be close.

Preceded by two additional overtime wins to stave off elimination, as well as the greatest save in Canucks history, it's a wonder that Jeff Brown's pass even makes it to Bure through the maze of Flames players. As always, with hands as quick as his feet, the puck is past a sprawled Vernon. In the moments leading up to the deke, you may never see a goalie retreating as quickly into his crease as quickly and as anxiously as Vernon did with Bure in front of him.

Outside of a Stanley Cup, it's as cherished a moment as Canucks fans have in our history. Slaying the dragon, McLean and Linden after Game 6... Bure's triple deke. Consider it the tri-fecta of Canucks on-ice victories.

Within 10 days, Bure will join another trifecta consisting of Stan Smyl, Trevor Linden and Markus Naslund. Not that we needed number 10 in the rafters to recognize Bure's impact on the franchise. Come November 2, however, it's official.


See the subsequent posts in our 10-day series on Bure:
Oct 25 Top 10 honourable mentions
Oct 26 Bure, Ovechkin and other All-Star voting fallacies
Oct 27 The staying power of Bure's 60-goal record
Oct 28 Pavel Bure and the progression of the Canucks' point-scoring record
Oct 29 The Bures, the Sedins and fraternal scoring supremacy

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