Published November 20, 2014
VANCOUVER -- Raffi Torres didn't need to be reminded about how trying last summer was for him as he searched and searched for a job offer that finally came from Vancouver GM Mike Gillis in late August.
Well, he was anyway, but Torres had no problems laughing it off Wednesday night. When you become the hero of Game 1 in the Stanley Cup Final, it's easy to look back fondly at the difficult road it took you to get there.
Torres' path to the press conference room at Rogers Arena was certainly tumultuous, but he got there by scoring the lone goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final with 18.5 seconds remaining on the clock in the third period. Torres put home a perfectly placed pass from Jannik Hansen to give Vancouver a 1-0 win over the Bruins and a 1-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final.
"It was a long summer. Obviously the phone wasn't ringing off the hook too much, but everything happens for a reason," Torres said roughly 30 minutes after scoring his goal. "I've tried everything in my power to put it behind me. Had some great support along the way and I'm 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."
Torres started the playoffs in the press box, sidelined by former NHL chief disciplinarian Colin Campbell for his elbow to the head of Edmonton rookie Jordan Eberle in the 81st game of the Canucks' regular season. Torres was suspended for four games, meaning he had to miss the first two against Chicago.
He returned to the lineup in Game 3, but immediately found himself embroiled in another controversy, this time for his high hit to Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook's head. The Hawks were calling for Torres to be suspended again, only this time for longer than four games, but Campbell did not see it that way and Torres avoided further supplemental discipline.
Torres admitted he changed his style for a few games after that hit and he wasn't nearly as effective. He was demoted to fourth line left wing and played only 6:16 in Game 6 against Chicago, just 5:13 in Game 7 and only 6:49 in Game 1 against Nashville in the Western Conference Semifinals.
"He's a little bit sometimes outside the box," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said of Torres. "But you got to let him be who he is. That's what we try and do."
Vigneault and the Canucks are letting him be now, but Torres said it took some conversations with injured Vancouver center Manny Malhotra to get him back on track. Malhotra played with Torres in Columbus during the 2008-09 season and the two became close.
"Manny has been nothing but a positive influence on me throughout the season and throughout the course of the playoffs," Torres said. "He's just one of those guys that said, 'Hey, Raffi, just go out there and relax. At the end of the day, your game is a meat-and-potato type of game. Don't try to do anything out of the your element. Just go out and play hockey, which is north-south, getting pucks, feet moving.'
"He puts that into my head every day, and after every period I go (to Malhotra) and say, 'What's up, what do you think?' Just a couple words of wisdom from a guy that knows what he's talking about."
Malhotra probably didn't have a negative word to say about Torres' game after the first or second periods Wednesday night. He had one hit in just over three minutes of ice time in the first period and four more hits in more than three and a half minutes of ice time in the second.
His third period was by far his best. He scored the goal to prove it.
"He does a lot of stuff that goes unnoticed," Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo said of Torres. "It's nice to see a guy like that get rewarded."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl