Wednesday, May 06, 2009


It's been said many times now in many places, but in Game 3, the Canucks played a near-perfect road playoff game. They scored first and built a three-goal lead, taking the crowd out of it. They were scored upon once, but the wheels didn't fall off the wagon like they did in the first two games of the series and the final game of the Saint Louis series. There would be no blowing of leads in this game. Also, after being injured in Game 2, Sami Salo didn't fly with the team to Chicago and didn't play, leaving the top four defensemen to suck up more minutes as well as semi-pest Shane O'Brien and Ossi Vaananen, the latter of whom drew into the lineup in Salo's place. The other injury was suffered by Pavol Demitra, who apparently would be evaluated in a week. As a result, Mason Raymond was bumped up to the second line with Mats Sundin and Ryan Kesler, adding speed even though in theory it's two speedsters and an old man. Taking Raymond's spot on the third line was Taylor Pyatt, who finally drew back into the lineup after laying his late fiancee to rest. Pyatt skated with Steve Bernier and Kyle Wellwood on the third line. The third line has been pretty good in the series so far, but the second line got some great energy with the addition of Raymond.

A physical tone was set early as Ryan Kesler threw a hit on his very first shift. Before two minutes had elapsed in the game, some jostling in front of the Vancouver net ended with Vaananen going off for roughing, knocking down a Blackhawk in front of the net. Willie Mitchell challenged Dustin Byfuglien to a fight (it didn't come). Kesler later ran Jonathan Toews' head into the end boards behind one of the nets. Alex Burrows got tied up with someone at the Chicago bench.

More importantly, a couple days after the captain Roberto Luongo took some but not all of the blame for the team's performance in Game 2, the team responded nicely. The Blackhawks skated circles around and through the Canucks and drove to the net at will for at least three of the first six periods of play in this series, but in Game 3, Chicago found little time and little open space to move around. There was aggressive forechecking, there were busy sticks, and there was a team of Blackhawks who had much trouble generating anything like they had the last two games.

An aggressive forecheck by Kesler on Nikolai Khabibulin behind the Chicago net along with a smart pinch along the right-wing boards by Kevin Bieksa helped lead to the first goal of the game. Kesler skated toward the faceoff dot to get the pass from Bieksa. Knowing he had two Blackhawks bearing down on him, Kesler passed across the slot to a wide-open Raymond, who scored into a mostly open net. On a power play early in the second period, Alex Edler fired a shot from the left point, and Steve Bernier positioned himself well and had no defenders close to him in front of the net. Bernier buried the rebound for a garbage goal to put the Canucks out to a 2-0 lead. The third and final Canuck goal came in a four-on-four situation as Henrik Sedin took a pass from Alex Edler and shot close on Khabibulin. Khabibulin stopped the first shot and as he was trying to cover it, Henrik jabbed the stick between the pads and nudged the puck slowly across the goal line and into the net. An ill-advised trip by Daniel Sedin trying to chase down an iced puck led to Chicago's power-play goal as Brian Campbell's blast from the blue line got through to the net thanks to a screen by Dustin Byfuglien and the covering Edler.

Penalties as a rule are easier to take when they're penalties of aggression (roughing/boarding/fighting) as opposed to the penalties of not being fast enough (hooking/holding/tripping). Of the Canucks' six penalties, the first three were all aggressive penalties -- Vaananen for roughing, Pyatt for boarding, and Kesler for roughing -- and all penalties were killed. Daniel Sedin's trip resulted in the power play where Campbell scored. The Canucks killed the two penalties for which they were whistled in the third period -- puck-over-glass penalties for Edler early in the third period and Raymond midway through the third period. The penalty by Daniel was a bit infuriating because it came 42 seconds after the Canucks had just gotten ahead 3-0. The Blackhawks' first shift after that goal was a very good one, but tripping while trying to negate an iced puck is just bad.

As for Luongo, he didn't have to be spectacular in this game, but it's nice having him back there in case he does have to be spectacular. Other than the goal, maybe the closest call was the puck that deflected off Mattias Ohlund's stick and off the post. Luongo stopped all the shots he saw and a few that he didn't.

Not too many people going into this game said it was a must-win for Vancouver, but it pretty much was. If they didn't win, the pressure on them to win Game 4 would be unreal. Chicago would still have home-ice advantage, for one, and the Canucks would have to take it all the way to Game 6 and would still have to win one in Chicago to take the series. The Canucks won, however, so now Chicago has to win Game 4 or else they'll br on the brink of elimination and on a plane to Vancouver to fight for their playoff lives and try to win three straight against Luongo. Game 4 is a must-win for Chicago, and the Canucks have to be ready for whatever Chicago is going to throw at them. As long as Vancouver takes the game to Chicago more than the other way around, they should be okay.

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