Friday, May 01, 2009


Like most of the popular sentiment among Canuck fans, I'm hoping the Canucks learned that they couldn't get away with playing anything less than 60 minutes of hockey, and that they can't get away with that against Chicago.

Some people have said the Canucks looked a bit rusty in the first period, which may be partly true with how uncrisp they were on Chicago's first two penalties in the first period. They weren't getting enough shots away and I'm pretty sure they took consecutive offsides at one point. Another example of lack of sharpness by the Canucks early on was Sami Salo's multiple missings of the net. Before Andrew Ladd delivered Kyle Wellwood his first high-stick of the night, a poor play of the puck by Nikolai Khabibulin led to a wide-open net for Ryan Kesler, who maybe stickhandled a bit too much and had his stick tied up by Samuel Pahlsson before he could get a shot away with Matt Walker being the closest thing to a goalie near the net. Vancouver finally cashed in on the Blackhawks' third penalty, when Pavol Demitra converted on a nice down-low pass from Mats Sundin. The second assist on the play went to Wellwood, who displayed some nice puck movement and stick-to-itiveness, using the open ice and eventually finding Sundin in the left corner, who made the pass through the blue ice to Demitra. Late in the period, the Canucks could have been called multiple times for too many men on the ice, which infuriated coah Joel Quenneville on the Chicago bench. Overall, it was a decent home first period for the Canucks, though they probably should have been up by more than one goal. Still, a decent period after such a long layoff.

About 2:30 into the second period, Steve Bernier went with speed through the right faceoff dot and went to the net, puckhandling past a diving Brian Campbell and putting a decent shot on the net which was stopped by Khabibulin. Not long after, Vancouver tallied for their second goal. Henrik Sedin passed across toward Daniel Sedin from the blue line, but Jonathan Toews seemed to have it picked off. That was until Daniel bumped him off the puck (on the television feed you could almost convince yourself Daniel tossed Toews over using his stick). From there, Daniel and Bernier passed back and forth while Henrik skated from the right point to the net untouched when Daniel hit him with the pass for an easy goal. Duncan Keith seemed like he knew Henrik was coming on the play, but didn't know exactly where and didn't really do much about it. Ben Eager went off with a pretty dumb roughing penalty 6:22 into the period, and the only thing the Canucks didn't do well on the power play was score. The passing was great, but the finish was not. The CBC's Jim Hughson at one point said that "Sweet Georgia Brown" should be playing during the power play. At this point, and definitely when the Canucks scored their third goal, it almost seemed like the Canucks were toying with the Blackhawks. On the play leading to the third goal, Demitra skated across the right point and passed off to Alexander Edler, who got a shot on the net that was deflected behind the net to Wellwood. Kesler read the play nicely and went to the net to get the pass from Wellwood for a quick goal. Interestingly, Sundin signaled himself off the ice early in the shift, so Wellwood was the guy skating with Demitra and Kesler on the play. Forty seconds later, Patrick Kane high-stuck Wellwood (this time he got it in the mouth), putting the Canucks on a four-minute power play again. This time was just as fruitless as the first, though, and it signaled a bit of complacency for Vancouver. It wasn't without a Kesler breakaway (he hit the post), but it was still fruitless.

I've seen games like this where the Canucks take a big lead at home into the third period, then the road team scores early and swings all the momentum (I remember a Calgary game in particular). Chicago's first goal came 61 seconds into the period on a bit of a broken play. As play went into the Vancouver zone, Martin Havlat had the puck and it looked like Kesler and Edler ran into one another going after him, and though Havlat lost the puck, Patrick Kane was right behind him (and Kesler) and buried it. Demitra was watching Kane for a couple seconds, but his only defense was a swipe from behind with the stick. Kane was very very close to being offside on the play, apparently coming across the blue line as Keith carried the puck across. It was pretty close -- I can watch the clip in motion and think offside every time, though the freeze-frames seem to say it isn't offside. With about 12:20 to go in the period, a quick hold-in near the right point led to a pass from Daniel to Alex Burrows at the goal line on the far side, who went to a knee to try to go top shelf, but couldn't put it in. Other than this, though, it was an incredibly flat third period for the Canucks as Chicago took the game to them. The second goal came when a Brent Seabrook shot from the right point got padstopped, but the rebound went to an unmarked Kane, who had no one near him. Of course, it was the ridiculous Darcy Hordichuk roughing penalty that resulted in the power play for Chicago. On the tying goal, Demitra lost a loose puck battle with Keith, who a few seconds later shot to the net, which was stopped, but Dave Bolland put the rebound in. It looked like Willie Mitchell was on Bolland, but let him sneak a few feet away, far enough to be the first one to get to that loose puck.

So, Chicago had gone from three goals down to a tie score in the span of 13:30 and evened the score with 5:29 left in regulation. They had all the momentum at that point and were looking to finish it in regulation or in overtime. The Blackhawks had a 4-on-2 break when Kris Versteeg on the right side passed to Walker, who didn't get the pass and put it off his skate to Walker. At this point, Bernier tapped it away and Wellwood skated through the neutral zone on what slowly evolved into an unthinkable 4-on-1. Mason Raymond took the puck toward the net, then passed across to Bernier, who shot but was robbed by Khabibulin. Luckily for Vancouver, Salo jumped into the play and poked home the rebound, which held up as the game winner. Inside the final minute, Khabibulin was pulled from the net and Chicago looked to tie again. A puck went into the right-wing corner and got by Campbell as the play went the other way. Burrows passed to Ryan Johnson to finish the game into the empty net. If you look at replay of his, Chicago has three of their guys below the goal line in the Vancouver end when the puck gets by Campbell's stick. The CBC showed Scotty Bowman's reaction in the skybox, where color man Craig Simpson read the lips and surmised that Bowman wasn't happy about Campbell's positioning on the play. All told, two pretty big gaffes by the Blackhawks led to two Vancouver goals to finish off Game 1. The game ended with a blast of the goal horn, which is new to me for Vancouver.

Needless to say, I'm hoping along with millions of Canuck fans that the Canucks have learned their lesson and tighten it up defensively from here on out against the Blackhawks. Chicago, however, knows they can score on Luongo, though I'm hoping that's more of a byproduct of the Canucks not being sharp defensively. If the Canucks tighten down the screws defensively like they did in the final three games of the regular season, it will help their cause immensely. It also helps to bury some pucks on four-minute power plays too. Anyway, though they played 40 pretty dominant minutes of hockey, it's definitely no secret now that Chicago can score goals in a hurry. There's too much firepower on that team, so it doesn't help Vancouver to be sloppy defensively or take ill-advised penalties. Let's hope the Canucks have gotten their sea legs and are way more crisp in Game 2. A loss in Game 2 gives home ice advantage to Chicago unless they pull one out in the Windy City, so it's imperative for the Canucks to hold serve and win Game 2.

The Tom Larscheid quote of the day, which hopefully the Canucks can take to heart if they get a lead like that again: "Never give a sucker an even break."

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