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Between The Dots: Once 'if necessary', Game 6 now required

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

Should the Vancouver Canucks be hearing footsteps, that won’t be a problem Sunday night when they visit the United Center, where noise levels could reach epic proportions. Game 6, once an “if necessary” entry that didn’t seem very likely on the Western Conference quarterfinal schedule, will be required. The Madhouse on Madison Street shall not rest on Easter, after all.

The Blackhawks caused this working holiday by waxing the Canucks, 5-0, Thursday night in a fast-emptying Rogers Arena to draw within 3-2 in a tournament that has taken a remarkably sharp U-turn. Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith each scored twice, Patrick Kane added another and goalie Corey Crawford registered his first playoff shutout.

The rookie masked man’s effort was not without stress, however. Before the Blackhawks blitzed his counterpart Roberto Luongo for three 1st period goals, Crawford declared himself early with crucial saves during a Vancouver power play that began 16 seconds after the puck was dropped.

“A special night for Corey,” praised coach Joel Quenneville, mindful that the Canucks were desperate for a quick start to seize the momentum they owned from Game 1 but have subsequently misplaced.   

Since being pronounced on the brink of extinction after Game 3, the still-defending Stanley Cup champions have outscored Vancouver 12-2. Who’s got the feeling now? Who’s doing the reeling now? Quenneville said his team played better with a little anger in its arsenal, and the Blackhawks have gathered much ammunition, none more tangible than the violent hit by Raffi Torres on Brent Seabrook, who has missed the last two games, both routs administered by his vengeful mates.

Do the Canucks now look like what they appeared to be only last week? Deeper? Tougher? Better? Confident? Destined? What do you think, sports fans? Perhaps not. More important, what do the Canucks think? But they still have the advantage in numbers, at least. The Blackhawks cannot afford to lose another game. The Canucks can, but if they do Sunday night, the prevailing mood throughout Rogers Arena next Tuesday night will be thick with anxiety.

When the Blackhawks fell behind 0-3 in this series and talked about emulating last year’s Philadelphia Flyers, a lot of people in their listening audience might have thought it was just that, talk. But now the Blackhawks are halfway to climbing that seemingly impossible mountain and sharing NHL history by winning four straight after losing three straight. The Flyers took their miracle to an outrageous limit, for they also trailed the deciding Game 7 by 3-0 before shocking the Bruins, 4-3, in Boston.

Thursday night the Blackhawks rocked and rolled as if they were playing a fourth period of Game 4. With the Vancouver defense retreating, Hossa fired a snap shot past Luongo’s glove 5:54 into the match for his first goal of the playoffs. Only 24 seconds later, on a power play, Keith beat Luongo, who saw more of Troy Brouwer than the puck. Jonathan Toews provided traffic when Patrick Kane’s deflection off Keith’s missile made it 3-0, again on a power play.

It could have been 4-0, but Luongo stoned Patrick Sharp on a breakaway. Not to worry. Hossa clicked on a breakaway early in the middle period with a delayed penalty pending, and Luongo was lifted for Cory Schneider, who also finished Tuesday night’s rout. Does this solidify Schneider’s role as Vancouver’s closer? He did not get the save, however, nor did he stop Keith, who made it 5-0.

As the Canucks said when they seized an apparent 3-0 chokehold on this series, there’s a reason why the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. It sounded polite then, but now, it might be prophetic.

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