When Maxim Lapierre was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks at the 2011 NHL trade deadline, there were questions about how this renowned agitator would mix with their first-place team chemistry. Those questions were answered with some variation of defenseman Keith Ballard's reaction to the trade:
"He's one of those guys you don't like to play against, but you like having on your team."
Which is to say that Max Lapierre can be a loathsome player: Diving, cheating, goading, earning supplemental discipline from the League.
Which is also to say that, under the right circumstances, Max Lapierre can also be an important player. As Lapierre declared after Vancouver acquired him from the Anaheim Ducks (and after the Montreal Canadiens sent him to the Ducks earlier in the season):
"I know I can help this team. I'll do it during the playoffs. That's my type of game."
The Canucks' 1-0 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final was, in many ways, the essential Max Lapierre game; the one you throw in the time capsule so future generations can witness the difference a pest can make on the run to the Stanley Cup.
Throughout the playoffs, Lapierre has helped power the Canucks' energy line with Jannik Hansen and Raffi Torres. In Game 5, they were the best group on the ice during a night that saw the Canucks dominate physical play against Boston. They had 10 of Vancouver's 47 hits on the night, to go along with 3 takeaways and a blocked shot.
But the most important number for the line: One.
As in the lone goal of the game that Torres helped set up and Lapierre scored:
"I think we try to keep things simple. We want to put the puck deep and use our forecheck game and be good in our zone and things will come," said Lapierre of his line.
"When you play good defensively, you get your chance on the other side."
The side that had him embellish this Zdeno Chara poke in Game 5 in rather dramatic fashion:
After the game, ESPN's Scott Burnside asked Lapierre the following:
Q. Max, looked like you were mortally wounded when you had that encounter with Zdeno Chara. I wondered how you were able to carry on after that. Describe the emotion of being one win away from the Stanley Cup.
MAXIM LAPIERRE: I think we know it's going to be the biggest game of our life in Boston, and Boston is going to be ready. We're going to have to be ready for a challenge.
Unlike many of his opponents, Lapierre wouldn't take the bait.
Again, it was the essential Lapierre: A moment of questionable sportsmanship that makes fans, media and his peers cringe, followed by a hustle play that results in a game-winning goal, bringing his team to within one victory of the Stanley Cup.
Sometimes, Hannibal Lecter walks off to meet a man for dinner. Or Jason Voorhees survives for another sequel. Or Claude Lemieux is given the Conn Smythe.
Sometimes, the villain wins.
To paraphrase the hip-hop mantra: We can hate the player, but begrudgingly respect the game. Through gnashed teeth and swallowed bile, it's OK to admit you'd take Max Lapierre on your Cup contender. Vancouver did, and he's made a difference.