Chemistry 101: How to win

BARRY MACDONALD -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

It is one of those often talked about yet hard to define intangibles of professional sport. Chemistry.

How do you get it? How do you keep it? And in the case of the Vancouver Canucks, what the hell do you do when it goes missing? You may have guessed where this is going by now, as we once again review the trials and tribulations of the so-called big line featuring Naslund, Bertuzzi and Morrison.

At one point, the tremendous trio was considered the best line in hockey. Naslund had the gift from the gods when it came to scoring, Bertuzzi could seemingly do what he wanted when he wanted, while Morrison complemented his mates with a more concerted and committed approach to the other end of the rink.

They were indeed something special for a few seasons, but this year saw a sputtering, if not complete derailment of the West Coast Express. Opinions varied as to why one plus one plus one no longer added up to three, but it was clear the synergy the line once possessed had gone MIA.

Certainly part of the problem was the act becoming familiar to the opposition. They have scouts, and in most instances TV sets. They have watched the patterns over the year and come to know what each player is likely to do, and where they are likely to do it from. There is only so much room on the ice, and only so much creativity three players can have together, and at some point the "best before" date comes and goes.

Facing the other guys top defensive pairings night after night can be taxing as well. Add the human element, of three guys maybe getting a little stale together and the gig might just well be up.

Which brought us to this week, and in advance of last night's date with the exciting Minnesota Wild, it would seem a change was exactly what the big line needed.

Was that really Todd Bertuzzi appearing to enjoy himself as he helped Alexandre Burrows score three goals?

Brendan Morrison had three goals in six games to snap his latest drought and Markus Naslund was back to his productive point-a-game self over the past couple of weeks.

Naturally it begged the question of why Marc Crawford hadn't fractured the line sooner.

Easier said than done. At what point does Crow decide the line once considered the best in hockey should be split up?

When you have three players, with an impressive resume together, it is a dangerous game.

If you bust them up on an experimental basis, what does it do for their confidence and is it a given they will recapture their magic if they are put back together?

As it turns out, desperate times called for desperate measures. Clearly he had to do something with 14 games left and the playoffs a mere possibility not a probability.

But based on what he had seen, what the fans had seen, was this really a roll of the dice for Crawford? No.

Naslund, Bertuzzi and Morrison were no longer the best line on the team. There was nothing to lose, and everything to gain. There was no reason to think these guys were so dependent on each other to be good, sometimes great players. So far, the gamble has paid off.

But don't think it will last forever. At some point over the next couple of nail biting weeks, and quite possibly beyond, you will see the big three together once again. And if the sum of the parts once again adds up to what it once did, Crawford might look like a coaching genius.

Clearly a case of better late, than never.

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