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A most improbable deadlock

by Brett Ballantini /

"Clearly, we've not put together a 60-minute game where we've been dominant. And yet here we are, tied. If we put our best game out there [in Game 5], good things are going to happen for us."
-- Chicago's Brian Campbell

CHICAGO -- Neither the Vancouver Canucks nor the Chicago Blackhawks can be thrilled with how Games 3 and 4 transpired during their Western Conference Semifinal series.
The Blackhawks were outplayed in the first 117 minutes of action here, letting their active legs get bogged down in the mush of Vancouver's amoeba defense. And they have continued their trend of first periods that are worthy of getting dragged back to the drawing board; Hawks coach Joel Quenneville was cornered Thursday night into admitting his team played its best first period of the series in Game 4 -- a period that ended in a scoreless tie.
"Scoring first is important," Quenneville said late Thursday, unable to stifle a laugh. "I'd like to find out what we'll be like playing with a lead."
Meanwhile, the Canucks could have ground their teeth down to the gums on their flight home, given how little they had to show for such thorough domination of the Blackhawks in Chicago. Hollywood couldn't have plotted a more intriguing twist than Vancouver's parade of gaffes late in the third period that led to an Andrew Ladd feed of Martin Havlat and a tie score, rendering moot an Oscar-worthy effort by goaltender Roberto Luongo and brilliant yeoman work by the Canucks defense.
"We started turning the puck over a little bit," Luongo said after his exhausting acrobatics had highlighted Game 4. "When you're doing that with only a one-goal lead, you're playing with fire."
Is there light at the end of the tunnel leading to the Game 5 tussle at GM Place Saturday? (10:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS) Indeed, both teams have reason to be invigorated for what now amounts to a best-of-3.
That Vancouver should remain confident is a given. The Canucks have dominated Chicago in all but three of the 12 regulation periods played in the series. As much as Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault has marveled at the series as a chess match, it's quite clear the Canucks are winning the clash of playing styles and forcing Chicago to muck it up more than it is accustomed.
In addition, while Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin has been solid between the pipes, Luongo has been head-spinningly spectacular, run off in Game 2 but essentially stymieing Chicago otherwise. And count on the possibility of two lifts forthcoming for the Canucks, as hobbled defenseman Sami Salo is due back on ice for Game 5 and, if needed, streaking winger Pavol Demitra could return for a stirring Game 7 in Vancouver.
"Our whole season has been adversity after adversity," said winger Darcy Hordichuk. "But nobody -- nobody -- but those of us in this (dressing) room expected we'd do as well as we did here. We'll continue to scratch away, and we're due a reward back home."
Undoubtedly, the Blackhawks feel fortunate to leave Chicago with the series knotted at 2-2. To a man, their home-ice performance elicits a bit of an eye-roll acknowledgement of "hey, we're tied."
But the Blackhawks know they can play much better and actually look forward to returning to the scene of their last dominance -- Game 2's assault on Luongo that seemingly had twisted this series overwhelmingly to their favor.
"Clearly, we've not put together a 60-minute game where we've been dominant," says defenseman Brian Campbell. "And yet here we are, tied. If we put our best game out there (in Game 5), good things are going to happen for us."

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