Life in the fast lane has become more difficult for the Blackhawks, who could have parked for a little while to catch their breath. Instead, they must catch a plane to Vancouver.
Game 6 on Tuesday night used to have an asterisk beside it, along with an “if necessary.” It became necessary because the desperate Canucks came into the United Center Sunday night and played a superb road game to win 4-1. Game 5 bore a strong resemblance to Game 1, which the Canucks won here. In other words, the Canucks looked a lot like the Blackhawks who played in Vancouver, where they won Games 3 and 4.
Why is this happening? I’ll hang up and listen for your answer.
“I don’t know the reason,” said captain Jonathan Toews, who scored again, but scored alone. “The home crowd doesn’t score goals for you.”
That noise you hear is the San Jose Sharks cheering. They’re resting and waiting for an opponent to be named later. For the Sharks, the later the better. It’s conceivable the Blackhawks, if they win Tuesday night, would then go directly to San Jose for Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference finals. If the Blackhawks lose, then it’s back to Chicago for Game 7 Thursday night. The Stanley Cup is the toughest trophy in sports to win for a reason.
The Blackhawks might have been in a clinching mood, but they were not quite in a playmaking mode. They had the yips around the net. They directed passes to open spaces. They didn’t win their usual number of jousts along the boards. And they didn't have their way again with Roberto Luongo, who appeared upright, mobile and all-omniscient. He was excellent in Game 1 and more than serviceable Sunday night.
Perhaps one snapshot captured the motif of an evening that began with so much promise and noise. Midway through the second period, Patrick Kane was motoring through the neutral zone and into Vancouver territory when, inexplicably, he just lost his footing. Dennis Hull used to joke that he perfected the move of tripping over the blue line, but Patrick Kane? One of the great skaters in the NHL?
Warnings began early, as in 59 seconds of the opening period, when Christian Ehrhoff beat Antti Niemi from long range. Niemi said he saw the shot initiated, but then lost it. The Canucks then doubled their pleasure at 14:24 when Kevin Bieksa stuffed the puck in just beyond the boarding house reach of Niemi, left hand extended.
Dustin Byfuglien escaped a penalty when his stick opened a gusher of blood from the head of Shane O’Brien; Byfuglien was following through with the puck in his possession to the right of Luongo. But Big Buff did go off shortly thereafter for slashing, and Bieksa tallied again.
The Canucks lost Sami Salo, who was taken to the hospital after the first period. But they didn’t lose their minds, perhaps because they didn’t want to return home in disgrace.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks can think about the team they were supposed to face in the finals, the Washington Capitals. They were up 3-1 in their series against Montreal, but are long gone. And the Canucks are better than the Canadiens. And the Sharks are watching, waiting, resting.