Does it seem as though the Blackhawks lead this series, 3-3?
You suspect that is how it feels to the loyal and loud hockey fans of Vancouver, if not necessarily the Canucks, who were a single victory from eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champions one Sunday ago and whose status has not veered from quo one Sunday later.
The Blackhawks, you see, won Game 6, another game that a lot of experts said never would be played, by 4-3 on Ben Smith
’s goal 15:30 into overtime at the United Center. That sets up another game that had absolutely no chance of being staged, Game 7, at Rogers Arena in beautiful British Columbia Tuesday night. I don’t know what the mood will be in that building, but I’m guessing that the folks up there probably wish the Dallas Stars had beaten the Minnesota Wild on the final evening of the regular season.
Easter Sunday evening at the Madhouse on Madison offered a smorgasbord of delicious stuff, even for customers who overstayed holiday brunches. The Blackhawks, who lost the first three matches of this tournament, three times fell behind by a goal and three times responded, the last on a penalty shot by Michael Frolik
—the first successful conversion in franchise playoff history, and the Blackhawks have been around since 1926.
Frolik beat Cory Schneider, Vancouver’s backup goalie, no slouch, who started instead of bedeviled Roberto Luongo—a gut decision, according to coach Alain Vigneault. Lo and behold, Schneider never faced another puck. He cramped up and departed while Luongo appeared from the locker room, where he apparently had been observing a holy holiday in his own fashion. Why the $10 million man never took a seat on the bench at game’s start is unknown. But Luongo was welcomed as if he were there to audit taxes from all 22,014 customers.
The fans were ready, in case this should be the final home appearance of the Blackhawks this season (we’ve said that before). They roared when it was announced Schneider would be starting, they robustly saluted the return of Brent Seabrook
, and they went beyond bonkers when Smith flipped a rebound by Niklas Hjalmarsson
over a prone Luongo, who actually performed quite well for a fellow who is allegedly haunted.
“A greasy goal... right place, right time,” said Smith, who has been a real find via the Rockford farm club. That’s also where Corey Crawford
served time, and all he’s doing lately is outplay richer and more famous goalkeepers. It’s been done before. Antti Niemi did it a year ago for the Blackhawks, who have not participated in a Game 7 since the 1995 conference quarterfinal against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Blackhawks won that best-of-seven after dropping the first two games at home.
But they were never down 0-3 like last Sunday, after which captain Jonathan Toews
said the Blackhawks were giving too much respect to the Canucks, who weren’t being exposed for what they are. What sounded like a pep talk now casts Toews as something of a seer. I won’t ask him how he sees Game 7, but I’d sure like to know who he’s picking in the Kentucky Derby.