Tuesday, May 11, 2010

'Hawks Seize the Day; Advance to Conference Finals

I don't think any NHL city experiences an actual holiday where their teams' season ends, unless its the last day of the regular season in Columbus (apologies to my family), but the Vancouver Canucks were knocked out of Stanley Cup contention on exactly the same day as they were a year before by the same team.

Chicago came out blazing, with relentless forechecking, winning loose pucks, and getting shots on net - they had Vancouver running around in their own zone. Of course, that style of play will open things up allowing scoring chances for the opposition, which the Canucks started taking advantage of but could not produce. Roberto Luongo came up huge for the Nucks early on and it was very clear that he came to play.

With an injury to Alex Edler late in the first period, Vancouver's defense was shorthanded for the second straight game and noticeably began to wear down. Troy Brouwer's first career playoff goal was a result of a pinch by Shane O'Brien followed by a lacksadalsicle backcheck from Kyle Wellwood, resulting in a straight lane to the net and easy tip-in by Brouwer. Teams talk all year about the importance of shifts after giving up a goal and how a team will respond. Well, flat-footed and as about as sharp as a bowling pin, Kevin Bieksa missed a routine puck off the boards allowing Kris Versteeg an easy path to the net. Just like that, Vancouver surrendered two goals in 36 seconds. 

With all the momentum in their favor, the Hawks kept pouring on offensive opportunities while remaining responsible on defense. Any attempted rush by the Canucks, forced the puck-carrier to rush through defenders without support leading to...well... nothing. A slashing penalty called on the Blackhawks toward the end of the period seemed to be the Canucks' opportunity to get themselves back into the game, however, it only resulted in a shorthanded goal on a great individual effort by Dave Bolland.

Down 3-0 to start the third, Vancouver came out playing with a sense of urgency - as they should have. A great recognition for defenseman Shane O'Brien to step up on a rush, allowed him to sneak a shot passed Antii Niemi to close the gap to two goals. The goal sparked some life and offensive chances for the Canucks only to see their clear desperation taken advantage of by Partick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien. The two scored goals just 25 seconds apart silencing the crowd at GM Place and put the Hawks up 5-1.

Chicago Blackhawks Day in Vancouver was complete and the Hawks will now travel south the play the Sharks. Series preview to come.

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