05.12.2009 12:55 A.M. ET
As I noted earlier tonight, there is not a single member of the Blackhawks that was on Chicago's roster the last time it reached the Western Conference Finals. One of the men who was on that 1995 squad was Gary Suter.
Among Suter's career highlights are the 1986 Calder Trophy, a Stanley Cup in 1989 with the Calgary Flames and a postseason hat trick on April 24, 1994 as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. That hat trick was the last for a Blackhawk in the postseason.
Patrick Kane, who spent most of this series as a physical target of the Vancouver Canucks, became the first Hawk to net a hat trick in the postseason in more than 15 years, completing the milestone on a wicked backhand after deking past defenseman Shane O'Brien. Kane's third goal was a sensational capper to what was a fantastic series and an even more spectacular game.
On a night that felt as if it had about 512 lead changes, Chicago and Vancouver had a back-and-forth battle for the ages, in which neither team gave an inch and six goals were scored in the third period alone.
And above it all stood Kane. As the cliche goes, big stars make noise in big games. While Kane already has a Calder Trophy and an All-Star appearance to his credit, his star was born tonight. He took over the third period in a way few players can and showed that, at only 20 years old, he will be a major performer on the NHL's big stage for years to come.
For the Hawks, meanwhile, a berth in the conference finals for the first time in 14 years is no small achievement, one that seemed remarkably unlikely given that they hadn't even made the postseason since 2002 before this year. But here they are. Whether they face the Ducks or the Red Wings, who Kane hinted might be his preferred opponent after tonight's game, the Blackhawks are likely to be the underdog.
But these Hawks are blissfully ignorant, and their youth and brashness has gotten them this far. That aside, however, taking this upstart bunch to reach the Stanley Cup Finals at the expense of one of the last two Stanley Cup champions seems rather foolish.
It's almost as foolish as picking them to make the NHL's Final Four would have seemed about eight months ago.
-- David Kalan
Action heating up
05.11.2009 11:28 P.M. ET
Vancouver struck for a big one when veteran Mats Sundin put the Canucks in front at 3:43 of the third period, but the elation was short-lived as Adam Burish scored to tie the game less than two minute later, navigating a shot through about 17 screens.
It seems the Hawks have found the solution to Roberto Luongo: Don't let him see anything. At all.
While the game remains tied at 4-4, both teams have seen a number of wild chances that very nearly tipped the score sheet in their favor, but the most notable part of the period may have come with Vancouver killing off a Chicago power play midway through the period.
Not only did the Hawks have difficulty generating chances on the opportunity, but it was the first successful penalty kill for the Canucks all night.
If Vancouver was going to seize any momentum, it had to come from that, and it did. Daniel Sedin gave the Canucks a power-play goal of their own with 7:45 to go in regulation, as well as a 5-4 lead.
But late rallies are becoming a tradition for this Hawks team. Patrick Kane tied the game up 45 seconds later and Jonathan Toews put the puck in on another power play 49 seconds after that.
Unless Vancouver can beat Nikolai Khabibulin for a sixth time, the clock will start to wind down on the Canucks' season.
Well this is getting interesting
05.11.2009 10:28 P.M. ET
Chicago seemed well in control for most of the second period. With just 3:54 gone, a wrist shot on the power play by Kris Versteeg had put the Hawks in front and another power-play goal, this one courtesy of Jonathan Toews midway through the period, had put the Hawks up by two. Things looked to be going just how Chicago would have wanted it.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the conference finals.
Not even 60 seconds had passed before Daniel Sedin stemmed the Chicago tide. Three minutes and 40 seconds later, Shane O'Brien of all people scored on a shot from the point and suddenly things are much less certain in the Windy City.
Yes, the game is only tied with a period (or perhaps more) left to play, but whatever momentum the Hawks had is now with the Canucks. From the looks of things, both teams are about to settle in for a long battle of attrition.
There may only be one goal left in this one. Obviously, it'll be a big one.
Same old song
05.11.2009 9:43 P.M. ET
Given the fact that Chicago is the team with a chance to clinch tonight, one would think the Blackhawks controlled most of this series. Bizarrely, however, Vancouver has made its hay in the early part of each game.
Despite entering tonight facing a 3-2 series deficit, the Canucks actually scored the first goal in four of the first five games of this series. Well, they turned the trick again tonight. Despite a mad flurry early in the first by the Hawks, a score by Mason Raymond on a feed from Mason Raymond at 11:13 has given Vancouver the first goal for the fifth time this series.
The key for Vancouver here would be to build on that lead. After all, Chicago has shown a tendency not to be swayed by early deficits. Of course, Patrick Kane has beaten Roberto Luongo with a wrister to tie the game with six and a half minutes to go before the intermission, but that doesn't mean this is over.
Far from it.
The Canucks may have lost their early advantage, but with everything square and a few solid chances in the end of the period, there is more than a fighting chance for Vancouver to force a seventh game.
To boldly go where they've never gone before
05.11.2009 9:10 P.M. ET
No, I've never actually seen a Star Trek movie, nor have I watched the TV show, but a nod to this past weekend's top-grossing movie seemed appropriate given the rarity of what we might see at the United Center tonight.
A win and the long-suffering Chicago Blackhawks will clinch a berth in the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1995. Quite a bit has happened in the last 14 years. Most notably, only two men who were on the Hawks' roster in 1995 are still in the NHL. One of them, Chris Chelios, is now 47 years old, while the other, Jeremy Roenick, is only a slightly less-impressive 39.
The rest of the '95 roster includes two men who, while they no longer play, were head coaches in the League this year. New Jersey Devils coach Brent Sutter was a center for those Hawks, while Denis Savard, renowned throughout Chicagoland for his spin-o-ramas while wearing the Indian Head, was Chicago's head coach at the start of this year.
A glance at the rest of the roster is a walk through memory lane, from the famous (Tony Amonte, Ed Belfour) to the memorable (Bernie Nicholls) to the flame outs (Eric Daze) to players like Brent Grieve who is most memorable for having a name similar to former Major League outfielder Ben Grieve.
To put an even finer point on it, only one player on this roster was even in the NHL the last time Chicago sniffed the third round.
So, uh, to put it simply, the Hawks haven't had an opportunity like this in a while. Judging from the furious pace they've come out to in the first period, though a brilliant save by Roberto Luongo on Martin Havlat has kept the game scoreless, they would really like to end this series tonight.
Should the Hawks get to the conference finals, they can start shooting for the Stanley Cup Final. They haven't been that far since 1992. Seventeen years may sound like a while, but it's better than thinking about the last time Chicago actually won the whole thing.
That was only 48 years ago.
Does Louie need to steal a victory?
05.11.2009 4:12 P.M.
Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo doesn't believe in a goalie "stealing" a hockey game.
"That stuff kind of happens on its own," Luongo said. "The most important thing is that we understand this is our most important game of the season and we have to come out and sacrifice everything. We've won games here (United Center) before and now we just have to execute and do it again."
The Blackhawks hold a 3-2 lead over the Canucks in this best-of-7 series that resumes tonight at United Center.
Still, it would certainly benefit the Canucks if Luongo did stand on his head. Louie is 6-3 with a 2.04 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but his team has been outshot in every game against the Blackhawks.
The Canucks captain is 2-3 with a 2.80 GAA and .905 save percentage in five games against the Hawks and, according to coach Alain Vigneault, is one of several players he'd like to see step up their play in Game 6 tonight.
"For me, he's like the rest of our group," Vigneault said. "He still has another gear to give and he's our best player, so he needs to play accordingly."
Somewhat of a interesting spin on the situation considering the Canucks, with the exception of the opening game of this series, haven't actually provided their All-Star goalie with some breathing room to play with. Still, Vigneault has pushed the right buttons so far so maybe this is his way of inspiring Luongo. We'll see.
--Mike G. Morreale
Afternoon update from Chicago
05.11.2009 2:53 P.M.
As expected, the only no-show at the Vancouver Canucks afternoon skate on Monday was winger Pavol Demitra (upper body injury), who didn't even make the trip to Chicago.
Defenseman Sami Salo participated and should make his second straight appearance for the Canucks, who are facing elimination tonight in Game 6 of their Western Conference Semifinal with the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center.
"We're healthy (with the exception of Demitra) and ready to go," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "There aren't any issues."
Vigneault stood along the boards opposite the players' bench watching, intently, as his team skated hard and with the purpose. Every so often, he'd blow his whistle and the boys would skate the perimeter of the arena. It was similar to any other day; nothing out of the ordinary. The only difference here is it could very well be the final practice prior to a game this season for the Canucks.
It'll be interesting to see if Vigneault has Mats Sundin with Daniel and Henrik Sedin to open Game 6. He had the three Swedes playing together from the midway point of Game 5 and the line did generate some decent scoring chances. Still, it wouldn't come as a surprise if Vigneault gave Alex Burrows one more shot with the Sedin's and kept Sundin on the second line with Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond.
"Anybody you put with the Sedins is going to be successful and Mats has a good trigger," Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "Anytime you have two world-class passers giving it to a world-class scorer, things definitely get more difficult."
--Mike G. Morreale
Safe is death
05.10.2009 1:46 A.M. ET
Apparently sometimes it doesn't take particularly long for certain people to learn their lessons and apply them.
Patrick Kane appears to be one of those people.
And just like that, Chicago is one home win away from its first Western Conference Final in 14 years.
It would be a wholly remarkable run for the Hawks if they're to get that far, but for me, the surprising thing is not Chicago's success. The Blackhawks have had potential all season long.
But the Canucks have also had potential -- potential that appeared to be coming to fruition during a dominating first-round sweep of the Blues. Coming off a strong win in the opening round, Vancouver seemed poised to make a solid run at the Western Conference title, if for no other reason than the fact that the best goaltender left in the postseason wears blue and green.
Instead, Vancouver has delivered a Jekyll and Hyde performance. The Canucks have won two games in this series, one in which they controlled most of the play, another in which they controlled the play from start to finish. But the three losses, all games in which the Canucks held a lead at some point, have been marked by flat stretches and tentative play during which they fell into the common mistake that comes with having a great goaltender -- relying on him to win the game by himself. At the same time, Chicago has grown more aggressive late in games, as evidenced by the fact that the Hawks have outscored the Canucks by a 9-3 margin in the third period this series.
The Canucks are not attacking once they're in front, as they did against St. Louis. They're playing safe. As John Tortorella famously said during Tampa Bay's 2004 Stanley Cup run, "Safe is death."
If Vancouver plays it safe in Game 6, the Canucks may learn the meaning of that phrase all too well. And they'll have several months to think about it.
The miseducation of Patrick Kane
05.10.2009 12:43 A.M. ET
Patrick Kane's first foray into the playoffs is developing into a tough one. Not from the productivity end -- Kane has eight points in the first nine games this postseason -- but from the physical one.
Kane's stature is not exactly the most intimidating in the game. He's listed at 5'10" and 175 pounds. Lest we mention his lack of a playoff beard make him appear even more youthful than his 20 years.
The result is that Kane is getting taken to task physically, including an elbow to the face earlier tonight while fighting for the puck along the boards. It's becoming pretty clear that part of Vancouver's game plan is to take Kane out of the game by hitting him as much as possible, and the reigning Calder Trophy-winner has been on the receiving end of some nasty shots -- some clean and some questionable.
So far, Kane is getting back up each time. Regardless of whether or not Kane goes home at the end of this series or lifts the Cup next month, he is enduring quite the learning experience.
If he gets the message it will serve him well and give him the toughness for future springs. Judging from the fact that he keeps taking his shifts and forechecking aggressively -- not to mention his four points so far in this series -- it looks like he's learning.
Yeah, I don't really think these guys like each other
05.10.2009 12:15 A.M. ET
A taught, disciplined defensive game has suddenly become far from disciplined. Make no mistake, like the entire series to this point, Game 5 has been a physical affair, with a number of big hits up and down the ice.
But those hits were clean. And between the whistles.
Late in the second period, however, this physical aspect of this game has been neither of these things. After a recent stoppage in front of the Vancouver net, an extended and intense face-washing contest broke out between Kris Versteeg and Kevin Bieksa. At the same time, Shane O'Brien was bated into a tussle with Matt Walker.
The result of the scrums, an extended delay and a long conference among the officials, was a power play for the Blackhawks, one that proved costly, as the ensuing Chicago advantage saw Dustin Byfuglien tie up the game by beating Roberto Luongo five-hole with his second goal of the night.
Clearly, the Hawks got what they wanted out of the confrontation, but Shane O'Brien and Kevin Bieksa are tough customers. With what should be a very interesting third period ahead, don't be surprised if we haven't seen the last of post-whistle shoving for the night.
05.10.2009 12:10 A.M. ET
The Canucks may have surrendered their first first-period goal of the series, but they have responded perfectly.
Just 2:27 after Chicago grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first frame, Ryan Kesler answered with a power-play goal to even the score. And then a little past the midway point in the game, Mats Sundin scored his first goal of this series to give the Canucks a 2-1 lead.
The Canucks are playing their game right now. They are hitting everything, they are making crisp breakouts and Roberto Luongo is Roberto Luongo. Although the Blackhawks haven't had too many great scoring opportunities, Luongo has stopped 15 of 16 shots to this point.
Another major factor in this game for the Canucks has been their unbelievably enthusiastic fans. Whether it's chanting "Lou" or cheering for shorthanded puck clearings, these fans are as good as they get in the NHL.
-- Matthew Cubeta
Well it only took five games
05.09.2009 11:17 P.M. ET
For a while it almost looked like it would never happen.
The fact that Chicago had won two games without scoring first once in this series is pretty remarkable, but that all has changed tonight at G.M. Place. With 4:33 to go in the first period and both teams trading opportunities without scoring, Dustin Byfuglien put a rebound into an open net past Roberto Luongo.
This is the first time the Blackhawks have scored in the first period in this series and the first time they've scored the first goal of any game in this series. I wondered if the Hawks would be comfortable playing with an early lead -- after all, it isn't something they've done much this postseason.
Fortunately for them, that anxiety didn't lasted very long, as a power-play goal by Ryan Kesler at 17:54 tied the game.
It was fun while it lasted though, wasn't it?
Where has Toews been?
05.09.2009 11:16 P.M. ET
I remember writing that Jonathan Toews was Chicago's best player in its opening-round series win over the Flames. But where has he been in this matchup against Vancouver?
After getting 2 goals and 4 assists in the six-game series with Calgary, Toews has just 1 assist in four-plus games against the Canucks. If the Hawks plan on getting to the Western Conference Finals, their captain is going to have to start contributing more. I am a huge Toews fan and love his intangibles, but he has to produce some goals for this team as well.
On the other hand, I give Vancouver plenty of credit. They knew what Toews was capable of doing, and they have played him perfectly. He isn't the biggest center in the league, so obviously you have to play him physically, and that's exactly what the Canucks defense has done.
Let's see if Toews brings his game-changing abilities to the table for the remainder of this series.
-- Matthew Cubeta
05.09.2009 10:59 P.M. ET
For much of the first period, this game has looked awfully similar to Game 4. Both teams have been playing a defensive style, trying to minimize turnovers as well as penalties. Midway through the period, a number of chances developed for both teams, perhaps the best being a 2-on-1 opportunity for Ryan Kesler which was broken up on a diving backcheck by Brian Campbell.
Despite the lack of offense, the ice is starting to open up. It looks like it won't be long before one of these teams finally lights the lamp. If Chicago is the team to do it, it will be the first first-period goal for the Hawks in this series.
And now I just don't know what to think
05.07.2009 11:43 P.M. ET
As the old adage goes, if you play not to lose, you won't win. Vancouver gave a shining example of that tonight, as the Canucks played tentative defensive hockey for most of the third period and expected Roberto Luongo to shut the door.
Once overtime began, however, the Canucks once again started going for their opportunities, and as a result nearly won the game early in the extra period. Were it not for stellar saves by Nikolai Khabibulin -- who only faced 15 shots all night -- Vancouver may have taken the game regardless.
But Khabibulin's quality saves opened the door for Andrew Ladd's game-winner, and suddenly this series looks dramatically different than it did 48 hours ago.
Often playoff series have some sort of visible trend. But not this one. Each game is completely different than the previous one, and each has presented a dramatic momentum shift. After each of the first three games I felt certain of which team I thought would win this series.
Now I have no idea.
I have absolutely no clue who is going to win this series. At this point, it's better that I not try to figure it out. Whatever conclusion I come to, I know Game 5 will only prove me wrong.
At least I can fall back on this: It's going to be a lot of fun finding out.
Deja Vu, anyone?
05.07.2009 10:33 P.M. ET
Some of you might recall Game 1 against the Calgary Flames when Martin Havlat scored late to force overtime before potting the game-winner just 12 seconds into the extra period.
But the unstoppable Robert Luongo finally showed a chink in the armor as Havlat took the puck off the boards, moved between the faceoff circles and wristed a shot into the net to tie the game.
Expecting Havlat to score another OT goal is asking a lot from the Chicago faithful, but considering the reaction at the United Center after he knotted the game up, I imagine they'll take this for now.
05.07.2009 9:26 P.M. ET
Roberto Luongo has stepped up his game in the second period. Despite the Blackhawks throwing wave after wave of offense at him, he has been stellar. It seems redundant to say that Luongo is spectacular, but he is the only reason the Canucks have a lead thus far. He is showing why he's one of the best goaltenders in the League.
Rick Rypien and Darcy Hordichuk aren't players that are household names. In fact, unless you are a Canucks fan or an NHL scout, you may have never heard of them. Nonetheless, they have been Vancouver's best forwards in Game 4. Hordichuk scored the only goal of the game, and Rypien has been all over the ice creating havoc for the Chicago defense. Both Rypien and Hordichuk have recorded their first playoff point, and the way Luongo is playing the goal they combined to score might be the only one the Canucks need.
-- Deven Persaud
Needing a lift
05.07.2009 9:17 P.M. ET
After a period and a half of both teams not generating offensive chances, things have gotten interesting in a hurry. Not only has Vancouver taken the lead on Darcy Hordichuk's goal, made possible by a remarkable pass by Rick Rypien, but the Hawks have also taken their shots on net.
Roberto Luongo has been there, however, and one thing seems to be truly standing in Chicago's way: Luongo's left pad.
Chicago's two best chances came in the middle of the second period. On one, Cam Barker looked to have a wide-open shot on a rebound. On another, Patrick Sharp had an opportunity to put the puck in on his backhand on a breakaway. Both times, however, Luongo stretched his left leg to make the pad save. In both cases, Chicago would have put the puck in the net if the players involved managed to lift it.
If the Hawks are to tie this game, they're going to need to go high. Luongo has shown he's simply too good down low to be beat.
Waking the offense up
05.07.2009 7:35 P.M. ET
In Game 3, Vancouver did a remarkable job of holding down Chicago's offense, something even more impressive considering the absence of Sami Salo. After scoring six times in Game 2, the Hawks could only muster one goal in front of their home crowd on Tuesday. Considering how potent Chicago has been in the postseason, that type of output is awfully surprising.
The Hawks have shown not only an ability to score, but to do so in bunches. For them to return to Vancouver with a split, they'll need to find the touch that has led to multiple rallies so far this postseason. The Hawks' job is made a little easier by Salo's absence -- he will be missing tonight's game as well, despite having made the trip to Chicago.
But then again, their job was supposed to be easy without Salo there in Game 3. We all know how that turned out.
Projected lineups from United Center
05.07.2009 7:55 P.M.
Here are your projected starting lineups from United Center in Chicago. It's loud and the fans are ornery. As usual, I couldn't hear myself think during the national anthem. If you have never experienced an NHL game in Chicago, I suggest you find the time at some point in your life…
It's interesting to note that Chicago coach Joel Quenneville will have Patrick Sharp, Adam Burish and Ben Eager on the ice for the opening face-off. Can you say, "Physicality!" The Canucks counter with the Kesler-Sundin-Raymond line. Still, I expect a majority of the game to be played using the following:
D. Sedin-H. Sedin-Burrows
--Mike G. Morreale
A 'minor' concern
05.07.2009 06:55 P.M.
There's no denying the fact the Blackhawks would certainly enjoy a first-period lead for the first time in this series on Thursday, but staying out of the penalty box would certainly go a long way to assisting their cause.
The Blackhawks have been whistled for eight minor penalties, one four-minute double-minor and one misconduct in the opening 20 minutes of their three previous games. Vancouver has scored three power-play goals in the first as a result. The Canucks, meanwhile, have compiled five minors and one misconduct.
"The penalties have taken us out of the game because it's tough to defend for two minutes and then get that momentum back," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. "We must keep it 5-on-5 for as long as we can."
"We'd like to find out what it's like to play with the lead in the first," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We've had success playing with the lead; it's one of our strengths."
The Hawks were 25-3-4 when taking a lead in the first period during the regular season and are 2-0 in the playoffs.
--Mike G. Morreale
Blackhawks/Canucks pregame notebook
05.07.2009 5:40 P.M.
Well, I'm in United Center and it's nice and quiet. In about two hours time, it won't be!
Here are some quick hits to get you ready for Game 4 of this Western Conference Semifinal between the Blackhawks and the Canucks.
* Chicago has notched a 7-17 all-time series mark when losing two of the first three games of a playoff round.
* The Canucks rank first in the League for wins (5) and third for the best winning percentage (.833) when scoring first. On top of that, Vancouver ranks second in the League for the best face-off percentage (53.6).
* Chicago right wing Martin Havlet has collected 17 goals and 42 points in 60 career Stanley Cup Playoff games with Ottawa (2001-06) and the Blackhawks.
* Alex Edler (1-4-5), Henrik Sedin (3-1-4) and Daniel Sedin (0-3-3) are each on a three-game point-scoring streak for the Canucks.
* The Blackhawks were held to a playoff-low 1 goal on Tuesday in Game 3 after tallying a playoff-high six markers in Game 2.
* Vancouver has led 15 of 22 periods (including one OT period) or 68.2 percent of the time since the start of the postseason. Only one team has held the lead more than the Canucks in the playoffs -- the Boston Bruins (80 percent).
--Mike G. Morreale
Canucks' Salo out for Game 4
05.07.2009 1:45 P.M.
Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo did not participate in the Canucks morning skate at United Center on Thursday and was declared "out" by coach Alain Vigneault.
He will be replaced along the blue line by Ossi Vaananen, as was the case in Game 3 on Tuesday when the Canucks scored a 3-1 victory. Vigneault wouldn't go into specifics about Salo's injury or even why he made the trip to Chicago if he wasn't going to play, but a majority of the media members on hand at The Peninsula Hotel this afternoon suspect it had to do with the fact the Canucks currently hold a 2-1 lead in the series.
If the club was trailing in this best-of-7 series, Salo might have been inserted into the lineup. The 6-foot-3, 203-pound Finn, who has 3 goals and 6 points in 5 postseason games, was scratched from Tuesday's lineup with a lower-body injury.
Following Wednesday's optional skate, in which Salo participated, he spoke to the media.
"I'm putting no percentages on my availability to play, but if everything goes well (at Thursday's afternoon skate), there's a good chance," Salo explained. "We'll see how it is in the morning and make a decision later on in the day."
Well, Salo never skated and Vigneault made it very clear that his top-four defender would be sidelined for Game 4.
"He didn't skate so he's not playing (Thursday)," Vigneault said.
--Mike G. Morreale
The ligher side of Sami Salo
05.06.2009 5:10 P.M.
Everyone knows Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo is a top-four blue liner for the Canucks, but perhaps you were unaware that he's also quite the comic.
Salo took 10 minutes to speak with the media following Vancouver's afternoon skate on Wednesday to discuss the "lower-body" injury that sidelined him for Game 3. Well, at least that's what we thought.
One reporter asked Salo. "So what exactly was your injury? Was it ankle, knee, groin …"
"Yeah, that's close," Salo replied. "Or maybe it's just a burning sensation when I pee. Who knows?"
Not only did every reporter burst out laughing after the comment, but it also sent a female reporter rushing to the exit.
Anyway, Salo remains day-to-day but there's no reason to believe he won't be in the lineup on Thursday for Game 4 at United Center.
"We evaluate every morning and we'll see how things are and go from there," Salo said. "We'll see how it is (Thursday) morning and then make a decision later on in the day. If everything goes well (on Thursday), there's a good chance."
When asked why he would be in Chicago if he wasn't going to play, Salo responded: "This is the most exciting time of the year and it's why you work and I don't want to miss any part of that. I've felt better every day and it has gotten a lot better."
Stay tuned -- Salo may provide a few more laughs following Thursday's morning skate.
--Mike G. Morreale
Demitra out; Salo possible
05.06.2009 10:20 A.M.
I learned late Tuesday night that Canucks wing Pavol Demitra will remain sidelined with an undisclosed injury and will be re-evaluated next week. There's speculation that the Slovakian forward may have suffered a concussion.
Whatever the case may be, the 34-year-old Demitra will be unavailable for Games 4, 5 and 6. If the series reaches a climactic seventh game, there is a chance he could return to the lineup.
The Canucks hold a 2-1 lead in this best-of-7 series that resumes on Thursday at United Center.
Meanwhile, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault confirmed that defenseman Sami Salo, who skated on his own in Vancouver Tuesday morning, had arrived in Chicago. Salo, who was scratched from the Game 3 lineup with a lower-body injury, will likely return to action on Thursday.
--Mike G. Morreale
Why was this night different from all other nights?
05.05.2009 10:51 P.M. ET
While the Blackhawks and Canucks entered Game 3 tonight split evenly, one could make the argument that the Hawks had controlled most of the series. Chicago outplayed Vancouver in the third period of Game 1 and thoroughly controlled the second half of Game 2 on Saturday night.
The Canucks took the lead in the first period, which was nothing new, but unlike the first two games where they stormed out to big leads in the first period, Vancouver continued to put on the pressure in the second period. Once Chicago lit the lamp, the Canucks responded by clamping down defensively rather than reeling.
This was all the more impressive given the absence of Sami Salo from the defensive corps.
The Canucks were able to match Chicago physically and kept a dangerous Blackhawks offense in check for the entire third period, preserving a huge win in Game 3.
And that Luongo guy wasn't too bad, either.
I was one of many observers who expected the Blackhawks to seize the momentum from their Game 2 comeback and pick up a big win in front of their home crowd. But the Canucks came out determined to take Game 3, and in doing so completely changed the dynamics of this series. Not only does Vancouver have a 2-1 series lead, but the Canucks have also regained home-ice advantage.
If Vancouver advances to the conference finals, Tuesday night's win may be the game we look back to as the moment this series changed course.
-- David Kalan
Hawks narrow the gap
05.05.2009 9:43 P.M. ET
A power-play goal on a blast from the blue line by Brian Campbell has closed the deficit for Chicago midway through the second period. Dustin Byfuglien did his best to get under Roberto Luongo's skin by giving him a few choice words after the tally, which Luongo responded to with a shove before the officials broke it up, but Luongo seems to still be on his game.
While the Blackhawks immediately picked up their play with a tough forecheck and more offensive chances, the Canucks' captain has held the Blackhawks to the one goal, maintaining a two-goal lead for Vancouver after the second period.
The Hawks are going to need a big third period to take this game, but as I've said before, that would be nothing knew for Chicago.
Still waiting for the rally
05.05.2009 9:23 P.M. ET
It's possible the Hawks had some early jitters about their first home game in the second round since 1996, but the robust comeback that has characterized Chicago's play this postseason is yet to make its appearance midway through the second period tonight.
Riding high after taking a lead in the first period, Vancouver drained any built energy from Chicago by making it 2-0 on a power-play goal by Steve Bernier just 60 seconds into the second. The Canucks have made the order even taller for Chicago with a score by Henrik Sedin just moments ago.
The Blackhawks have shown that three-goal deficits can be overturned this postseason, but if they're to turn the trick again, they need to get moving soon.
This looks familiar
05.05.2009 8:49 P.M. ET
With the first period over in Chicago, the Blackhawks and Canucks appeared evenly matched, with each trading chances and blows. Vancouver, however, has stuck first as a nifty move by Ryan Kesler in front of Nikolai Khabibulin opened up things for Mason Raymond who was streaking into the slot.
The goal has taken some of the air out of a very excited United Center crowd, but this is hardly the end of the road. The fact that 40 minutes are yet to be played aside, the Canucks scored first in Games 1 and 2. Both times the Hawks rallied to tie the game.
Let's get physical
05.05.2009 8:23 P.M. ET
Perhaps the Canucks got tired of letting Adam Burish and Ben Eager push them around. Both Vancouver and Chicago have been very physical in the early going, as multiple post-whistle scrums, a particularly rough cross check by Vancouver's Ossi Vaananen on Patrick Kane and two penalties have already ensued.
While the intense play hasn't been dirty on either side, with the possible exception of Vaananen's penalized cross check, both teams are getting their clean, albeit rough, shots in. This game could get nastier before it gets friendlier.
Time for Luongo to shine
05.05.2009 7:54 P.M. ET
With just minutes to go before tonight's opening face off, calling tonight's game pivotal is probably putting it mildly. After pulling out Game 2 with a strong comeback performance to tie the series at 1-1, the Blackhawks have an opportunity to take a stranglehold on this series with a sweep at home in Games 3 and 4.
While Chicago clearly outplayed Vancouver at the end of Game 2, the Canucks hold the ultimate trump card in Roberto Luongo, who despite giving up eight goals over the first two games at GM Place, is arguably the best player on the ice from either side. Even if the Hawks outskate the Canucks as they did in Game 2, Luongo is more than capable of stealing one or both of the games to be played this week at the United Center.
Of course putting the emphasis on Luongo sells the rest of Vancouver short. With the Sedin twins and other contributors like Alex Burrows, the Canucks could easily unleash an offensive outburst. Unfortunately for them, Nikolai Khabibulin is playing like the Bulin Wall of old, and without defenseman Sami Salo in the lineup, the Canucks will be hard-pressed to prevent the potent Hawks from generating plenty of their own offensive chances.
As well, the questionable status of Pavol Demitra makes the situation a little more murky for the Canucks and difficult for coach Alain Vigneault to manage. Given Demitra's status and Salo's absence, the Canucks could be facing an uphill climb.
But the man between the pipes could still have quite a bit to say about it. With Luongo in net, there isn't one game of this series that could be too tough for the Canucks to pull out.
Demitra not in warm-ups
05.05.2009 7:40 p.m.
Vancouver Canucks wing Pavol Demitra, who did not practice with the team on Monday because of an apparent upper-body injury, did not participate in the team's pregame skate prior to Game 3 tonight at United Center.
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault, speaking with the media Tuesday afternoon, did admit Demitra would be a "game-time decision." The 6-foot, 200-pound Demitra had 1 goal and 2 assists in 6 playoff games for the Canucks.
If Demitra is scratched, which is now looking more likely, Taylor Pyatt, who was skating in pregame, will likely play on the third line with Steve Bernier and Kyle Wellwood. Mason Raymond would move up to the second line with Ryan Kesler and Mats Sundin. Pyatt will be making his playoffs debut for the Canucks.
Of course, the top trio consists of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows.
--Mike G. Morreale
A wild and crazy atmosphere
05.05.2009 6:30 p.m.
Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell knows the wild and crazy atmosphere that will be United Center on Tuesday when Game 3 between the Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks takes the spotlight.
In fact, Mitchell admitted being a big Jeremy Roenick fan as a kid and following the Blackhawks any chance he could. Roenick, who was drafted eighth overall by the Blackhawks in 1988, spent eight seasons in Chicago from 1988-96.
"I was actually a big Jeremy Roenick fan as a kid and it's actually good to see Chicago in the playoffs because it's been a long time for these guys," Mitchell said. "I remember watching No. 27 (Roenick) flying around and the atmosphere inside Chicago Stadium (at the time) was electric. It'll be much the same and can't wait for the national anthem -- I get chills during the regular season when the anthem plays, never mind the playoffs. It'll be amped up that much more but we'll use it as motivation. It's been a while since playoff hockey has been in Chicago, so I'll enjoy every minute of it."
--Mike G. Morreale
John McDonough's take
05.05.2009 12:00 p.m.
Chicago Blackhawks President John McDonough treated the remaining media members lagging behind at United Center late Monday evening to some pizza and also sat down for almost 45 minutes to talk shop.
It was certainly an enlightening conversation and the story was published on NHL.com Tuesday morning.
One question asked that I wasn't able to get into the story involved McDonough's relationship with General Manager Dale Tallon. It has been rumored that the relationship has been a tenuous one, at best. But McDonough, grateful the question was posed, squelched the rumors that Tallon "wasn't his guy."
"Not true," McDonough said. "Here is where I think this comes from. Anytime that somebody new comes in to run an organization, you're getting to know people and getting to know their styles and their styles are different than yours. That might be put under the category of friction between the president and the GM.
"Dale is more of a laid-back, casual, get-it-done-in-a-different-style type of guy and mine is more aggressive, so we're learning more about each other and I have great respect for Dale. He's the architect of this team. I don't know where that got started, but when people say it's out there (relationship between Tallon and McDonough), I'm flattered that you asked me and I appreciate you asked me because people are talking about this and nobody ever called me to discuss it."
--Mike G. Morreale
Buff has Big impact
05.04.2009 8:15 p.m.
I wouldn't be surprised if much of the morning reading in the local tabloids on Tuesday featured 6-foot-3, 247-pound Blackhawks wing Dustin Byfuglien and his duty to make life miserable for All-Star goalie Roberto Luongo in the best-of-7 Western Conference Semifinal.
When Byfuglien made his way to the locker room following his team's morning skate on Monday, reporters sharpened their pencils and made sure the batteries were fresh in the recorders prior to having a word with the fourth-season pro.
Amazing what these Stanley Cup Playoffs will do for players who aren't as high-profile during the regular season. But, make no mistake about it, Byfuglien is making a difference for the Blackhawks. He did against Miikka Kiprusoff and the Calgary Flames in the opening round and he's doing it again against Luongo and the Canucks.
The 24-year-old Byfuglien is earning his paycheck pitching tent in front of Luongo and making certain the "difference-maker" has no clue as to the whereabouts of the puck. In addition to creating a screen, he's also doing a lot of yapping.
"It's all part of the playoff excitement and it's a challenge for me that I welcome," Luongo said. "It gets me more motivated than anything else. Maybe I'll start antagonizing him more."
Hmm. Sounds more like Byfuglien is having more luck getting Luongo off his game than the other way around.
Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa isn't overly impressed with Byfuglien's shenanigans in front of his standout goalie.
"(Buff) is a big body and he's played well for them but I'm not a guy who's going to sit here and pump another guys tires, especially when I hadn't really noticed him out there," Bieksa said. "He gets in on the forecheck and gets his body in front of Louie. It's more of us worrying about ourselves right and not worrying about them."
--Mike G. Morreale
Toews is feeling fine
05.04.2009 2:15 p.m
A recent report in the Toronto Globe & Mail stated that Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews not only was recovering from the flu, but was dealing with a shoulder injury so bad that he could barely raise one of his arms.
Following Monday's morning skate at United Center, Toews denied those rumors by raising both arms and stating, "I feel fine."
He admits his recovery from the flu has certainly taken its toll but that he is feeling much better than he did at the start of the series.
"Obviously, you still have to battle and eat and sleep and do your best to recover as fast as you can but the last two games have been a battle," Toews said. "Unfortunately we came up short in Game 1 but in the last couple games I feel that guys stepped up and, really, didn't necessarily even need me out there. Hopefully, I'll be able to contribute a little more on Tuesday."
Toews saw 14:21 of ice time in Game 2 victory on Saturday and chipped in with an assist in a 6-3 triumph. He also won 64 percent of his face-offs. The Blackhawks will play host to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 3 of this best-of-7 Western Conference Semifinal on Tuesday at United Center.
"That's a rumor (about Toews' arm)," Blackhawks rookie Kris Versteeg told NHL.com. "(Joel) Quenneville said it nicely when he told the media he had an upper body flu and that's about it. He's been fine and he's been working hard and it's tough sometimes when you have those little things like the flu."
MIA -- Blackhawks forwards Samuel Pahlsson and Andrew Ladd and defenseman Matt Walker were missing from the team's morning skate on Monday, but all are expected to play in Tuesday's Game 3 at United Center.
--Mike G. Morreale
Taking the momentum
05.04.2009 1:17 p.m. ET
When a team that doesn't have the home-ice advantage opens a series, they usually look at the schedule and try to split the first two games in the other team's arena. That's exactly what the Blackhawks accomplished with their 6-3 win Saturday night in Game 2 in Vancouver after losing Game 1, 5-3.
Now the series is set to shift back to Chicago, where the Blackhawks had a 3-0 record in the first round against the Flames. During the regular season, the 'Hawks were pretty impressive at the United Center as well, losing just nine home games in regulation.
Chicago center Dave Bolland, who scored a shorthanded goal which gave the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead in the second period of Game 2, thinks that with a win in the most recent game that Chicago now has the momentum coming home.
"Taking this momentum now and bringing it into our rink is huge for us," Bolland told the Chicago Tribune. "These are two tremendous teams going at it hard. Everybody wants to win, so it's looking to be a long series."
Now the Blackhawks have home-ice advantage with three of a possible five games to be played in Chicago.
The Canucks, however, won both of their road games in the first round against St. Louis proving that they can win on the road as well and coach Alain Vigneault knew his team would encounter more adversity in this round after sweeping the Blues in four games last round.
"This is our first loss in the playoffs," Vigneault told the Vancouver Province. "You have to be realistic. We didn't think we'd win this series four straight. We've faced adversity before and bounced back. We're going to go to Chicago and play our hearts out."
-- Adam Schwartz
Cats and Dogs
05.03.2009 12:55 A.M. ET
Vancouver has to be worried. The Hawks scored five times on its All-Star netminder. Roberto Luongo only gave up five goals three times during the regular season. Couple that with the fact the Canucks blew two multiple-goal leads, and fans in Van-City have to be more concerned than a professional stylist in Don Cherry's closet.
To turn this series back in its favor Vancouver needs to do one thing: be tougher. Don't allow Chicago to get second and third opportunities around Luongo. Take the body and get the Blackhawks out of the play. The Canucks have to be more physical on the back check. Hockey is a physical game, and in the third period of both Games 1 and 2 The Canucks have been playing like kittens, when what they need to be are Dobermans.
-- Deven Persaud
Something stirring in the Windy City
05.03.2009 12:47 A.M. ET
Chicago is truly shaping up to be one of the more interesting teams in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blackhawks have shown a penchant for toughness, offensive outbursts and stirring comebacks so far in this postseason, but tonight was something different.
On a few previous occasions when the Hawks managed to rally, they still ended up on the short side, as was the case in Game 4 against Calgary and Game 1 against Vancouver. But tonight they didn't just pull the game out with a comeback, they completely took it over and put it away, well before the end of regulation.
From that point on, the Hawks dominated the game skill-wise and physically. Were it not for the absolutely stellar play of Roberto Luongo, Chicago might have taken over the game even sooner.
As the series moves on to the United Center Tuesday night, Vancouver will have a chance to reestablish home ice by stealing one of the two games in Chicago -- and with Luongo in net that is always a possibility. But if the Hawks simply hold serve at home, this series could end much quicker than the highly competitive first game would have indicated.
Moreover, if the Blackhawks can avoid the mental blunders that have plagued them in the opening periods of both Games 1 and 2, and continue to play as they did for the final 40 minutes tonight, they could have the look of a Cinderella team that makes an unexpectedly deep postseason run.
The 2006 Oilers, 2003 Mighty Ducks and 1994 Canucks are three such teams that come to mind. I'm not courageous enough to predict a run to the Finals for the Blackhawks just yet. Getting past Vancouver will be a tough enough task before Anaheim or Detroit enters the picture. But the Hawks have the look of a dangerous team that could stick around. If they play on all cylinders, midnight may not strike for a while.
Eager gets even
05.02.2009 11:08 P.M. ET
With the Blackhawks trailing in the second period, Roberto Luongo made a spectacular diving save to rob Ben Eager of a sure goal.
Well just 2:13 into the third, Eager took another shot, and this Luongo was unable to make the play. Surely, the play would not have existed were it not for a brilliant feed from behind the net by Adam Burish, but Eager was finally able put himself on the board.
And it may have been a backbreaker.
Eager's tally put the Hawks up 4-2 and took much of the air out of GM Place. A superb blocker save by Nikolai Khabibulin moments later and a goal by Patrick Kane has only made any possible comeback tougher for the Canucks.
The Blackhawks have shown an ability to rally with a potent offense that is hitting its stride at the right time -- Chicago has scored three goals in a period five times this postseason. If the Hawks hold on, they will have a golden opportunity to seize control of this series when they come back to the United Center.
Wax on, wax off
05.02.2009 10:59 P.M. ET
Déjà vu or ‘too live crew’? Game 2 seems to be following the same script as Game 1. The young upstart crew from Chicago has rallied once again from an early deficit, this time taking the lead away from the Canucks.
Vancouver needs some leadership if it is going to right the ship, and there is only so much Roberto Luongo can do from his end of the ice. The Canucks need a skater to step up and take the reins. They need a veteran, someone who has been deep in the trenches of the playoff war before, and because Trevor Linden isn’t coming out of retirement, the mantle falls to Mats Sundin.
Sundin needs to carry this team on his back and show it how to win. Yes Daniel and Henrik Sedin have finally shown up in the playoffs this season, but asking them to lead in scoring and in the dressing room when you have Sundin on the roster is like asking Billy Smith to relax, it’s like telling Scott Stevens to stop taking the body or asking Patrick Roy to play forward. It’s unnatural and unnecessary. The Sedins are skilled and are playing well, but leadership comes from experience and Sundin’s 86 playoff games are almost double what either Daniel or Henrik have played.
-- Deven Persaud
Consider those tables turned
05.02.2009 10:33 P.M. ET
The Blackhawks appear to be giving the Canucks a taste of their own medicine. After Patrick Sharp scored through a wall of players, the Hawks evened the score courtesy of Sharp once again.
But he had help.
With Chicago already on the power play, Vancouver's Willie Mitchell committed a delay of game penalty to give the Hawks 101 seconds with a two man advantage. It took 90 of them, but Sharp blasted a hard shot from the point to beat Roberto Luongo, knotting the game up at 2-2 just three minutes after first putting the Hawks on the board.
It looked like Vancouver might steady the ship as a hooking call on Patrick Kane gave the Canucks a power play late in the period, but Dave Bolland made a remarkable play for Chicago, grabbing the puck at the blue line on a clearing attempt and moving in on Luongo shorthanded. Bolland did his best Charlie Conway impression by triple deking in front of the net and potting the go-ahead goal.
Somewhere in Minneapolis, Gordon Bombay is smiling.
Sharp makes a game of it
05.02.2009 10:20 P.M. ET
For several minutes it appeared that Roberto Luongo had made an argument for being Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and Terry Sawchuk all rolled into one. Luongo made a series of spectacular saves to keep the Canucks up by two -- including a diving stick save on Ben Eager -- but Patrick Sharp finally broke through by beating Luongo five-hole at 10:24 of the second period.
And all it took were about 17 screens.
Yes, there was quite a logjam of players in front of the net, and while Luongo had made a strong save seconds before Sharp lit the lamp, I can't imagine any way that he might have seen that shot coming. It might be tough for the Blackhawks to score again if they'll need to put such incredible traffic in front of the net, but make no mistake, with nearly half of regulation yet to be played, it's a game now.
Back to their old tricks
05.02.2009 9:48 P.M. ET
A quick glance at the Chicago roster will show they're a young, though talented team. The youth and immaturity seems to be showing during the first period tonight. After spending a large chunk of Game 1 on the penalty kill, the Blackhawks appear to clearly not have learned their lesson.
Both of Vancouver's goals in the opening period came on the power play, with four different Hawks spending time in the sin bin, including Niklas Hjalmarsson's delay of game penalty and an ill-advised Duncan Keith slashing penalty. Keith's penalty was particularly painful, as it gave the Canucks a two-man advantage, leading to Alex Edler's goal at 6:44.
Granted, Chicago noticeably took control of the game for a stretch after the second goal, but much like Game 1, the Hawks are digging too large a hole with unnecessary mental lapses. Yes, they are young, and they will probably learn, but heading home down two games wouldn't leave much class time left in 2009 for them to apply those lessons.
To infinity and beyond
05.02.2009 9:41 P.M. ET
Speaking of which, if I'm a Vancouver fan, I'm warily excited by this start. I’d be excited because, hey, the Canucks are up by two early in the first period. But I'm wary because this is eerily similar to Vancouver's start in Game 1, and if they surrender this lead there is no guarantee that Sami Salo can save them again.
That being said is Salo the second-coming of Bobby Orr? No. But after coming into this postseason with just five career playoff goals, no one would have expected the Canucks blueliner to have three tallies in five-plus games. They say the playoffs create heroes. If that's the case then Salo is well on his way to becoming at least the next Buzz Lightyear, if not Superman. And regardless of what I said in the previous paragraph, maybe he can keep saving the Canucks' season.
-- Deven Persaud
05.02.2009 8:51 P.M. ET
Before getting into the storylines for Game 2, I'm going to predict the outcome of this series by breaking it down into subjects with elementary school logic.
Game 2 -- Definitions:
Canuck - Slang term for Canadians
Black Hawk - A Sauk and Fox leader of the 19th Century or an attack helicopter.
Winner: Canucks. A helicopter can't land on ice, and the leader fought in the War of 1812. But Black Hawk fought for the British on the same side as Canada, so Canada wins. Additionally people have birds for pets, not the other way around. When was the last time you heard of a falcon who owned a domesticated Canadian?
Game 3 -- Geography:
Vancouver - It's on the ocean and the largest city in British Columbia.
Chicago - The largest city in Illinois, and is on Lake Michigan
Winner: Vancouver. Oceans are larger than lakes, and British Columbia is larger than Illinois. Size matters in hockey (just ask the Sharks about Ryan Getzlaf).
Game 4 -- Population (Metro Area):
Vancouver - Over 2 million
Chicago - Over 9 million
Winner: Chicago. Again, the bigger, the better. Ken Dryden is 6' 4", Arturs Irbe was 5' 8" -- and who has more Stanley Cup rings?
Game 5 -- Nicknames:
Vancouver - "Hollywood North"
Chicago - "The Windy City"
Winner: Chicago. Hollywood is warm and gorgeous, but hockey is a cold-weather sport, and wind is cold.
Game 6 -- Team Colors:
Vancouver - Blue and Green
Chicago - Black and Red
Winner: Tie. Black and Blue are painful. Red and Green are Christmas. Mixed together they all make brown. Can you remember a team with a brown uniform winning a Stanley Cup?
Game 7 -- Logos:
Vancouver - Orca Whale in the shape of a C
Chicago - The Indian Head
Winner: Vancouver. Moby Dick could eat people.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver 3, Chicago 2, with 1 tie.
Add this to Vancouver's Game 1 win, and the Canucks take the series in six.
OK -- as promised, here is a more realistic primer for tonight’s game:
Jonathan Toews might be ailing after playing just 13:46 in Game 1. He averaged 18:37 during the regular season. Is that due to fatigue after a tough six-game series with the Flames, or is Chicago's leader suffering from the infamous "upper-body Injury?" Without Toews, will the Hawks' depth be enough to keep the momentum going from Thursday night's third-period rally?
For the Canucks, it's merely a question of which team are they? The team that shut out the Blackhawks for 40 minutes in Game 1 or the one that barely escaped with the win after completely imploding during the third period?
-- Deven Persaud
Canucks, Blackhawks gear up for Game 2
05.02.2009 6:52 P.M. ET
We're just over two hours away from the opening faceoff of Game 2 between the Blackhawks and Canucks at GM Place. While Vancouver managed to take Game 1 with two late goals, one might wonder if the Hawks are the ones carrying the momentum.
After all, Chicago did rally from a three-goal deficit in the third period against one of the best goalies in the game, and continued to put the pressure on and generate strong scoring chances. Despite falling on a late score, the Blackhawks dominated the final period.
It appears Hawks coach Joel Quenneville is hoping a rested team is a better one. The Blackhawks didn't hold a morning skate earlier today, which may or may not be beneficial. Chicago's morning skate was optional before Game 1 and was sparsely attended. The result was 40 minutes of undisciplined hockey that put the Hawks well behind the eight ball.
Interestingly, the Canucks were also apparently banking on rest, as their morning skate ahead of tonight's Game 2 was also optional, but Mattias Ohlund and Rick Rypien were the only players not to take the ice. The players seem to be putting a great deal of emphasis behind what is shaping up to be a pivotal game given the numerous momentum swings in the series opener. With both teams taking different routes in preparation for tonight, it will be interesting to see how both sides react once the puck is dropped.
At the very least, expect Vancouver to be spirited in the early going. While the attendance of their morning skate may be an obvious sign of the Canucks' enthusiasm, they'll also be looking to match Chicago's physical intensity as more than one person in Vancouver's locker room has taken umbrage at the hit Ben Eager laid on Rypien in Game 1. Eager isn't one to shy away from contact, but tonight he won't have to worry about finding it. It will find him.
Well that was a doozy
05.01.2009 12:31 A.M. ET
For much of the first half of this game, neither team seemed particularly good, but Vancouver certainly seemed like the better bunch -- or at least the most disciplined one.
Chicago committed a number of bad penalties during the first and second periods, and if there is one thing you don't want to do against the Canucks, it's give them power plays. And the Canucks took advantage, scoring a power-play goal in the first period and taking advantage of Chicago's shorthanded time to nurse their lead and prevent the Hawks' offense from getting any momentum.
For one, they found they can score on Roberto Luongo. The stalwart goaltender hadn't been challenged much early on, and when he was, he delivered the goods by keeping the Hawks off the board. But Chicago scored three times in the third, showing not only that they could score on Luongo when they played disciplined hockey, but also showing how to score on Luongo. Many of their early shots came with little traffic and were easy for the netminder to hold on to. But in the third the Hawks set screens in front of the net, got traffic in the crease and managed to take shots that, if stopped, would generate second chances. Both Patrick Kane's second score and Bolland's game-tying goal came on rebounds.
The other thing the Hawks may have found is they can wear the Canucks down. Ben Eager threw his body around the ice with glee, beating up the Canucks with a number of strong checks and hits. If Chicago continues this kind of physical play, it may tire Vancouver out before long.
Still, despite the third period, the result of this game is the same, and Vancouver still carries a 1-0 series lead into Game 2. The Hawks may have learned some lessons about how to beat the Canucks, but it is too late in the season to simply be learning. A lack of discipline early cost Chicago in this game, as it did on Sami Salo's game-winner late in the third. The Hawks rallied, but the Canucks still hold the edge. In a wild night, Vancouver took the day.
At this point I could still see the Blackhawks rallying to win this series, but the Canucks are no slouches, and their skill and talent played just as large a role in tonight's win as the Hawks' lack of discipline. If Vancouver advances to the conference finals it would be no surprise.
The only surprise at this point, as far as I can see, would be this series ending in less than six games.
Vancouver 4, Chicago 3 FINAL
04.30.2009 11:49 P.M. ET
The Canucks took an early three-goal lead and were playing well. Early in the third period they did not have the same energy they had in the first two periods.
After two quick goals from Patrick Kane, Pavol Demitra committed a turnover at the blue line and the Blackhawks capitalized to tie the game.
Late in the third period the Canucks were the ones to take advantage on a turnover and came down the ice on a three-on-one. Sami Salo scored with just over a minute left to give Vancouver a 4-3 lead en route to a 5-3 final.
Vancouver held on to home ice advantage. Game 2 Saturday night should be much like this one.
-- Deven Persaud
We've got a game, kids
04.30.2009 11:21 P.M. ET
And just like that, Vancouver might have to start worrying. Chicago went on the power play midway through the period and after having difficulty getting a rush into the Canucks' zone, Brent Seabrook took a long shot from the blue line which rebounded to a waiting Patrick Kane. He scored on an easy putback to close the gap to 3-2 with his second goal of the period.
While the Hawks have undoubtedly been playing better than in the first period tonight, a comeback seemed a long shot. But remember, Chicago rallied from a three-goal deficit once already this postseason, doing so against the elite Miikka Kiprusoff.
Luongo has certainly played better than Kiprusoff this postseason, but with the pressure the Hawks are putting on and more than eight minutes to go in regulation, Chicago may yet get a chance to tie things up.
Hawks finally get on board
04.30.2009 11:06 P.M. ET
Patrick Kane started the third period in the penalty box, but 61 seconds after the start of the period he may have given Chicago some life.
After Chicago struggled to get traffic in front of Roberto Luongo all night, Kane used a group of Canucks and Blackhawks in front of the Vancouver net as a screen to beat Luongo top shelf.
Chicago still trails by two, and scoring twice on Luongo in less than 19 minutes is a tall order, but Kane's tally makes it clear the Hawks may not be done yet.
04.30.2009 11:04 P.M. ET
The Sedins make playoff hockey look pretty. They are still as good as they were in the first round. Their uncanny ability to find each other in traffic, coupled with Steve Bernier's talent for attracting defensemen, is making life a living hell for the Blackhawks.
With the return of Mats Sundin, Chicago hasn't been able to focus on shutting down one line, as it did against Calgary. That is the single-most troubling factor for the Hawks. If they can't stop the Vancouver offense, they'll find themselves down early, and being down by more than one goal against Vancouver is like being down by 10 goals with 2 minutes left against any other team.
-- Deven Persaud
The game opens up
04.30.2009 10:18 P.M. ET
The offense looks to have opened up early in the second period, but the Blackhawks are still not getting as many quality chances as the Canucks. Chicago is putting the puck on net, but most shots by the Hawks are coming at a distance and from the boards with little traffic in the crease to disrupt the steady Roberto Luongo.
While Luongo has not been tested much, Nikolai Khabibulin is more than holding his own at the other end of the ice. He has made several solid saves, including a strong stop on Steve Bernier, who made a beautiful toe drag move on a 2-on-1, that looked almost certain to give Vancouver a two-goal advantage.
Despite Khabibulin's strong play, keeping Vancouver's edge to one goal hasn't lasted long, as a spectacular centering feed from behind the net by Daniel Sedin to his brother Henrik has put the Canucks ahead 2-0.
Canucks take the lead, 1-0
04.30.2009 9:40 P.M. ET
Finally, something to get excited about! A very sexy passing play from two former Maple Leafs, Kyle Wellwood and Mats Sundin, has led to the first goal of the series off the stick of Pavol Demitra. Textbook power-play work by the three Canuck forwards.
If the Hawks hope to get anything past Roberto Luongo, they'll have to stay out of the box and take the game to the Canucks. It's difficult to beat "Lou" even strength, almost impossible to do shorthanded. Vancouver gave up five shorthanded goals all season, and only two of those were scored on Luongo.
Right now they don't look like the "mighty Blackhawks," but more like confused pigeons in Central Park -- they're there, they're a New York City fixture, but they're causing more problems than they're solving. That being said, I expect to see a flurry of activity from Chicago when it comes out for the second period, maybe even a few odd-man rushes.
On an extremely random note, the organist in Vancouver is spectacular. He just played "Bittersweet Symphony," not a traditional hockey song by any means. Any chance you think the organist in Anaheim can play "California Love?" If you were the Ducks, how sweet would it be to hit the ice to a little Tupac Shakur, Phantom of the Opera-style?
04.30.2009 9:40 P.M. ET
This game has been extremely sleepy thus far. A few power plays, a few chances, a jaunt for Khabibulin and one nice save by Luongo are the only moments of excitement thus far.
There's no nastiness, no urgency, no 'joie de vivre' in this game. I know it's early, but Vancouver should be flying after an eight-day rest. They seem content to let the Hawks come at them, albeit very slowly. I understand there is a feeling-out process, but after the utter ridiculousness of the two Game 7's Tuesday night I feel like tonight is a slight letdown.
Random note -- one of the announcers said "the Sedins find each other all the time" -- does that mean they often lose each other? What does that mean for Steve Bernier, is he always lost? Is that some sort of dig at his play? I thought Bernier was great in the St. Louis series, creating room and screening the goalie.
I guess we'll find out by the end of this series who's right about Bernier. Deven Persaud, sometimes-blogger, or the respected and reputed hockey men of Versus -- I wouldn't put money on me.
Sammy to the rescue
04.30.2009 9:32 P.M. ET
Nikolai Khabibulin decided to venture out a little too far to play a puck midway through the first period and wound up bumping into his own defenseman and leaving a wide open net for the Canucks.
Fortunately for Chicago, Sammy Pahlsson's quick backchecking averted the crisis. While Joel Quenneville may have had a mild heart attack on the bench watching the play develop, the Hawks still find themselves in a scoreless tie. For a few seconds it appeared as though that would not be the case.
Game 1 underway
04.30.2009 9:10 P.M. ET
With the Blackhawks and Canucks getting started in the second round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Chicago and Vancouver present us with perhaps the most difficult series to handicap in this round.
Granted, there are no easy picks here -- all eight remaining teams are solid, legitimate contenders. But there are a number of questions for both sides that remain up for debate. Will Nikolai Khabibulin continue his remarkable rebirth in the postseason? Will the Canucks respond better to the young Blackhawks' toughness than the Flames did in the opening round? Can Roberto Luongo continue to take his place among the elite goaltenders of the NHL by reaching his first conference final? How will the Blackhawks try to lock down the potent Sedin brothers?
With so much to be decided as these two teams skate tonight, two men who will be watching closely are Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson and Chicago mayor Richard Daley. The two men have continued the time-honored tradition of goofy intercity sports bets involving local products.
Robertson thinks his Canucks are strong enough that he's willing to risk smoked salmon, wild mushrooms, chocolates and blueberry sauce among other items. Daley is betting the Hawks will be good to protect his assortment of hot dogs, cupcakes, polish sausage, pasta sauce and Chicago 2016 Olympics merchandise.
Clearly the stakes aren't just high for the men on the ice.
Swede success indeed
04.29.2009 3:30 PM ET
Apparently Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, isn't that big of a town despite the fact that it cranks out hockey players like Bridgestone does tires. The town is home to both Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Rangers forward Markus Naslund, former Avalanche forward Peter Forsberg and Chicago center Sami Pahlsson.
The Sedins missed the party when Pahlsson won the Cup in 2007 with the Ducks and brought it to his home, which is just 10 doors down from theirs. Now, the Sedin twins are trying to prevent that party from happening in their second-round series with the Blackhawks.
"Well, I didn't go to the party," Daniel told the Vancouver Sun. "I think we were out of town, which was kind of lucky."
Henrik knows that it is important to keep their off-ice relationship, which is a close one, separate from their work relationship, which in all likelihood is going to be an on-going distaste for one another.
"It's special because he lives close to us in our hometown and we know him really well," Henrik told the Vancouver Sun. "But we've played against matchups the whole year, so for us it's not going to be a big difference. We know him better off the ice, but that's the only thing."
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville isn't likely to keep Pahlsson, who played on Anaheim's defensive shut-down line with Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen in the 2007 playoffs, away from the ever-dangerous Sedin twins. In fact, the off-ice pals could very well be matched up against each other.
-- Adam Schwartz