Canucks send a message
Posted on: May 6, 2009 12:43 am
Edited on: May 6, 2009 12:47 am
The joke was that the Vancouver Canucks were heading to Chicago trailing their series 1-1.
Gallows humor to be sure, and delivered mainly by those who believed the Canucks had set the stage for an inevitable demise in these playoffs. You couldn't necessarily blame them either because after looking all but invincible in an opening round sweep of St. Louis, Vancouver appeared to be anything but at home in the first two games of this series against the Blackhawks. The Canucks nearly blew the series opener when ithey squandered a three goal lead and then went down to defeat in Game 2 after scoring the first two goals.
Add in the absence of Vancouver's best defenseman Sami Salo, key forward Pavol Demitra, a couple of shaky efforts by goalie Roberto Luongo and the expected energy boost the Blackhawks would get at home from the loudest crowd in the league, and there were enough elements in place to foresee a potential unraveling for the Canucks. Especially after Brian Campbell added another one by scoring for the home team midway through the second period.
It felt like one of those "uh-oh, here we go again" moments because it came after Vancouver had built up the dreaded three goal lead Chicago has recovered from three times already in these playoffs. This time though, the Canucks didn't allow it to become a turning point, instead reminding everyone that this is still very much a series. They stuck to the game plan and kept grinding away, hanging on for a 3-1 win that could end up being a turning point for them.
Or at the very least a major confidence boost, the kind you get from beating a team decisively in its own back yard. Vancouver managed that tonight in what was a surprisingly tame game between teams that have built up plenty of animosity over the course of the season by doing the things it does best, namely getting pucks deep, avoiding excessive penalties and keeping traffic in front of Luongo to a minimum.
The Blackhawks did their part to help too, with an uninspired effort that saw them manage only seven shots in each of the first two periods. Chicago's speed really wasn't a factor and its great transition game was negated by the Canucks forcing their defensemen to constantly turn and retreat for pucks, but the Blackhawks compounded the problems with bad passes and by turning over the pucks too often and too easily.
One of those giveaways came from goalie Nikolai Khabibulin late in the first period and it led directly to a Mason Raymond goal that gave Vancouver the lead to stay and took the crowd out of the game. The noise returned briefly after Campbell scored, but it wasn't enough to help a young Blackhawks team that has to realize it can't keep digging itself out of holes.