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Canucks aim to end series in Vancouver

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO – They've got some great places to eat in this town, a few sightseeing spots that are fun and plenty of places to shop 'til you drop.

All the same, the Vancouver Canucks probably don't want to come back to the Windy City until next season.

After failing to sweep the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal on Tuesday night at the United Center – getting routed 7-2 in the process –the Canucks are headed home with one goal in mind.

Win the next one and be done with the pesky Blackhawks once and for all – at least for this season.

"We can't let momentum carry over," said Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who led Vancouver with seven hits but finished with a minus-1 rating and picked up a fighting major with 3:40 left to play and the game out of hand. "Game 5 is a new game. It's in Vancouver and (we'll) regroup and get back to the way we've been playing the last three games."

They'd better, because this is how some of these rare-but-magical comeback stories begin. Teams with their backs firmly pressed against the wall that are given new life can sometimes be the most dangerous to play and difficult to put away.

Right now, despite the blowout loss and six goals allowed by world-class goalie Roberto Luongo, the pressure is just starting to build for the Canucks to end this series. It's very slight right now, and if they end the series at home on Thursday, all will be still be rosy in British Columbia.

If they don't, the pressure will invariably start to mount on Vancouver if the series comes back to Chicago for a potential Game 6. The Canucks hold the trump card with home-ice advantage in a Game 7 scenario, but nobody in Vancouver wants to even think about looking that far ahead.

Right now, it's all about finishing the Hawks' season in two days and preparing for the conference semi-final round that’s tripped the Canucks up in each of the previous two seasons – both against Chicago.

"I don't think there's just one area of tonight's game that we were real sharp, so we're going to park this one, turn the page on it and get ready for the next one," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "Like I've been mentioning since the first game … our process is one game at a time, focusing on the right things to do and (playing) with the right work ethic. And that's the way we're going to get ready for the next game."

Almost to a man, the Canucks reacted to this loss as expected – saying that a blowout doesn't mean anything more than just one defeat in the series.

That may be true, but there had to be some flashbacks for any Canucks who were around two years ago when the Hawks lit up Luongo with seven goals to end that series in six games – with Patrick Kane getting his first career hat trick in the process.

The difference this time is that it didn't end Vancouver's season. The question now is, did it re-start a series that looked all but over after the Canucks won the first three?

"I don't think you can say it's Luongo's struggles," Bieksa said. "I think you can say it was the Canucks' struggles. You can't pinpoint tonight's loss on one guy. I don't think anybody's happy with their performance, so we struggled tonight as a team."

Will it stick with them?

"It shouldn't," Bieksa continued. "We're a pretty resilient team. We're a good team. So, we'll go back and we'll regroup and we'll learn from our mistakes. There (were) plenty of them and we'll be better next game."

If they're not, the chance for being suckered into more retaliation penalties against a team they don't like could increase. That's what appeared to happen late in the third period of this game, as skirmishes and a fight broke out with the two teams jawing at each other until the final horn.

"It's playoff hockey," Bieksa said. "Not to say we wanted to make a statement going into the next game, but we wanted to finish the game hard and finish it physical. That's been our game plan all along and that's what we did. We played hard."

Now they get another chance to put an end to Chicago's season– only this time it's on home ice. Overall, that was their main goal coming into Games 3 and 4 in the Windy City. Had they also dropped Game 3, it would be a much different feeling for the Canucks.

"We got the split here in Chicago and it's where we want to be, up 3-1," said captain Henrik Sedin, who didn’t record a point and finished minus-4. "It's the playoffs. You get one win, you get life. They gave us a lot of life before, though. We didn't think we were going to beat them four straight. They're too good of a team to do that, but at the same time we didn't come up to our standards tonight."
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