The Blackhawks really don’t want to go back to Chicago. Well, not just yet. So they’re trying a little wishful thinking.
For the Blackhawks, that means packing a few extra pairs of underwear. Thing is they only get to use them if the next stop on this road trip is down the coast in San Jose. But since that's the preferred option for Chicago after tonight’s big Game 6 in Vancouver, anything is worth a try.
The Blackhawks obviously aren’t interested in a deciding Game 7. Even if it is at home. Not after they could and probably should have made their way to San Jose for a conference finals showdown with the top-seeded Sharks. Chicago had everything place to finish off the Canucks at United Center a couple of nights ago, but instead gave a very good team with a better goalie a new life. That’s a dangerous thing to do in the playoffs.
Vancouver was facing a 3-1 deficit in a series that has changed directions more often than fly balls at Wrigley Field, and an even bigger one in the mind-game department. But in what was the latest example of how this very talented Blackhawks team sometimes takes things for granted, Chicago took advantage of neither in Game 5.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they have made that something of a habit since wrapping up the Central Division title around the Olympic break. Chicago played less than enthused hockey down the stretch, and rookie goalie Antti Niemi did nothing to inspire widespread confidence. Together, it nearly cost them in the first round against the pesky, but modestly-talented Nashville Predators, who pushed the series to six tough games. It might ended tomorrow had Nashville not thrown away Game 5 on the road in the dying seconds.
But if Chicago found a way to prevail in that series, it is ahead in this one largely because the Blackhawks have goaded the Canucks into taking a lot of stupid penalties and then killed them on the power play. Thing is the Canucks grew up fast the other night by learning how to keep cool, and the Blackhawks couldn’t figure out how to deal with it.
"We couldn't complete a long pass, we couldn't complete a short pass, our puck-moving game was almost non-existent,” said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. “We have to do a better job managing the puck.”
“In Games 3 and 4 we did a lot of good things and had everything going our own way. Maybe we thought we were just going to continue on that path, but nothing's easy.”
Not when Vancouver plays with enough discipline to stay out of the box. The Canucks have been better than Chicago in this series at even strength, and over the course of the regular season, they have been one of the league’s toughest teams at home.
But the playoffs are a different animal, and Vancouver has already lost three times in its own building.
“We seem to play a different game at home,” said Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa. “Maybe we’re too riled up with the fans.”
That’s not a good thing because the Canucks have already shown what happens when they let their emotions get the best of them. Vancouver had penalty killing problems in the first round against Los Angeles too, and even if Roberto Luongo is coming off a fine effort in Chicago, he has been up and down enough in these playoffs to make the notion of too many shorthanded minutes a scary one for the Canucks.
Vancouver has another issue because it will be shorthanded along the blue line. Sami Salo is suffering a lower body injury and that means more ice time for the top four defensemen against the bigger and strong Chicago forwards, who will be looking to rebound from their passive effort. Their net presence and pressure down low has to return if Chicago is to avoid being put into a risky one-off situation.
But the Canucks are facing elimination, so which team has the pressure?
''Probably both,'' Chicago forward Patrick Kane said. ''We want to win in Game 6 and not give ourselves a chance to go to Game 7.
They're playing in front of their crowd where they lost two games already in the series.”