The Vancouver Canucks altered their style and decided to run and gun with the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of their Western Conference Semifinal.
Clearly that wasn’t such a stellar idea.
Three times Vancouver held at least a one goal lead against Chicago, yet wasn’t able to buckle down on defence or between the pipes, two areas normally classified as the team’s bread and butter.
Breakdowns by every Canucks defender lead to scoring chances, some resulting in goals, as the back six couldn’t keep pace with the Blackhawks' speedy, skilled forwards.
That wouldn’t have been the end of the world had Roberto Luongo
played to his potential.
Vancouver’s captain was Pacman-like in the first period as he gobbled up pucks from every angle making eight saves on nine shots.
Luongo only made 15 saves the rest of the game allowing six goals over the final forty minutes, including four on nine shots in the third period, in a 7-5 loss.
“I let my teammates down tonight and it’s something that’s going to take a while to get over,” said Luongo, who ditched any and all calculated responses for raw emotion.
You have to go back to Luongo's ninth and tenth career NHL games to find the last times he allowed seven or more goals in a game.
Then a member of the New York Islanders, the pimply-faced 20-year-old gave up nine goals to the Pittsburgh Penguins and seven to the Boston Bruins in back-to-back losses.
In the eight years since Luongo has bent as far as six goals against, but never surrendered seven, let alone in a must-win game with his team on the ropes.
“It was pretty wide open, but I’ve got to make the saves,” Luongo said, adding that he is truly rattled he couldn’t be there for Vancouver when the team needed him most.
“Obviously you let in seven goals, I don’t think you’re pretty satisfied with your own performance.
“They had a few chances early and I made some saves, but the rest of the way I didn’t help my teammates out.”
Luongo will undoubtedly be enemy No. 1 in Vancouver in the coming weeks and while he deserves his share of the blame, as coach Alain Vigneault pointed out, “You win as a team and you lose as a team.”
After jumping out to a 1-0 lead midway through the opening period, the fifth time in six contests the Canucks had done so, the Blackhawks responded with a score just two minutes later.
Looking back, that was foreshadowing on how this game would play out.
Chicago then scored back-to-back power play goals to take a commanding 3-1 lead with everyone in Vancouver wondering how their team would respond.
In style, that’s how.
A one Mississippi, two Mississippi count later and goals from Daniel Sedin
and Shane O’Brien – the big guy’s first as a Canuck – knotted things up at 3-3 heading into the third period.
Mats Sundin scored his second goal in as many games to give the Canucks their second lead of the contest before the Blackhawks responded. Daniel Sedin
was up next, he scored again to put Vancouver in front for a third time, but although the comeback Canucks had done a great Chicago impersonation in rallying time and time again in Game 6, they simply couldn’t hold off the juggernaut Blackhawks.
Three straight goals for the home side ensured the Blackhawks their first trip to the Western Conference Finals since 1995 and that the Canucks will be busy cleaning out their lockers later this week instead of prepping for a seventh and deciding game.
“I think you’ve got to give them credit, they’re one of the best skilled offensive teams in the National Hockey League,” said coach Vigneault.
“If ever they can keep this team together in this cap era, the people of Chicago are going to have a very strong team for a very long time.”
The question of why the Canucks, who led in all six games and were at least tied if not leading in the last seven minutes of four contests, three of which counted as losses, were unable to ice games off will be asked again and again and again in the weeks and months ahead and unfortunately there is no correct answer.
When Vancouver played steady defensive hockey it cost them, when the team focused on scoring, like in Game 6, it was their demise.
The only remotely positive thing to come out of this contest, aside from O’Brien finally tickling the twine, was the fact that the Canucks went out with a bang.
“What can you say, to end up on the losing side is a disappointment, but we’ve got to be proud of the guys, we gave everything we had,” said Daniel Sedin
, who had a pair of goals after not scoring since Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarter-Final versus St. Louis.
A thrilling season comes to a chilling end for the Vancouver Canucks, but in keeping things in perspective, it was one heck of a ride.
One I think we’d all jump on again.
This was a spectacular outing for Vancouver offensively. The big guns came alive with Daniel Sedin
picking up a pair of goals, Mats Sundin had two points and even the defence chipped in with seven points, none bigger than Shane O'Brien's first goal of the season.
The offence can only do so much when the defence isn't standing its ground.
The Canucks outshot the Blackhawks 38-30.
What defence? Every defender had a few gaffs in this game and a few of them cost the Canucks on the scoreboard.
The last line of defence was anything but as he stopped just 23 of 30 shots in allowing seven goals for the first time in 558 games.
The Canucks only gave the Blackhawks four power plays, too bad they converted on three of them.
That goes back to the lack of defensive unity Vancouver had, and the fact that Luongo struggled between the pipes after the first period.
Vancouver converted one of five power plays.