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If the Canucks go ahead and complete the historic collapse from a 3-0 series lead with one final first-round loss to the Hawks on Tuesday, do they just shut down the franchise?
Because the Canucks haven't just lost the last three games to the Hawks. The team from the awesome city just over the border in the Pacific Northwest (it really should be on everyone's must-visit list) has been utterly demoralized in three different ways.
If the Hawks repeat their performance from Game 5, when they skated into British Columbia in the middle of last week and gave the home team a 5-0 thumping, it will mark the third year in a row our town's hockey warriors have bounced promising Canuck squads out of the playoffs.
A team rallying from a 3-0 deficit doesn't feel like as big of a deal as it did even way back in 2009 because the Flyers did it to the Boston Bruins early in the NHL playoffs just last year. But it has never been done in a seven-game series in the entire history of the NBA and has happened all of once in Major League baseball postseason history (the Red Sox over the Yankees in 2004). The NHL had seen this kind of comeback only twice in almost a century of playoffs before Philadelphia rallied in 2010.
The first game of the Hawks' epic run back from 3-0 down (known simply as Game 4 from here on out) was just one of those things.
Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo wasn't sharp and the Hawks were especially fired up after a Rafi Torres shot to Brent Seabrook's jaw the game before sidelined the defenseman (until Sunday).
Intense support from a home crowd disappointed by the series deficit but still immensely appreciative of the Stanley Cup run the year before fed a 7-2 blowout. So did a Canuck team that knew it could go and win at home the next time out.
Game 5 was similar and yet fundamentally different.
Vancouver came out ready to re-take command on its home ice and, assisted by a power play all of 16 seconds into the game, peppered Corey Crawford with shots early on.
But Crawford stayed strong and Seabrook's defensive partner and the league's best defenseman (he is still the Norris Trophy holder after all) Duncan Keith led an overwhelming surge. His two goals and two assists - what may have been his finest game as a Blackhawk, and that is seriously saying something - sparked a five-goal outburst in front of Crawford's first-ever playoff shutout.
The Canucks finally played well again on Sunday in Game 6 but they couldn't shake the Hawks. They led 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 before watching the home team rally.
And after goalie Cory Schneider hurt himself splits-ing in vain to stop Michael Frolik's perfect penalty shot (the first successful Blackhawk playoff penalty shot in franchise history), the game was tied and the shaky Luongo was back between the pipes.
Sure enough, the Hawks finally solved him again 15:30 into overtime.
And while we're running down post-game questions, could Luongo possibly have looked more awkward than he did on Niklas Hjalmarsson's final shot from the blue line? That was the one that resulted in the benched Canuck goalie's lunging save, the rebound, and Ben Smith's awesome goal in what play-by-ply man Pat Foley pointed out was only his 12th game with the Blackhawks in his career.
Oh wait, Luongo had looked just as awkward on another high shot earlier in the overtime. He was just lucky that shot - which bounced off the bottom part off his catching glove - didn't result in a rebound disaster.
When I was young and we played dodgeball in gym class at the Latin School (those were the days!), we played with a couple pins set up in opposite corners maybe 50 feet from the middle line. A team could win if it nailed all the guys on the other side of the court before someone caught a throw to put everyone back in the game, or it could win by knocking down those two pins.
There was one kid in my class who wasn't coordinated but he was into dodgeball. What he would do was place himself in front of one of those pins and be the final line of defense. He would try to make catches (and if he did, he would then give the ball to one of his teammates to go up and gun at an opponent) but when he invariably missed, at least he had protected the pin.
He was better at protecting that pin then than Luongo is at protecting the goal now.
I'm still not at all used to rooting for Frolik. What am I supposed to do with Smith, who has gone from starring for Boston College in the Frozen Four to doing the same for the Hawks in one remarkable year? But I can cheer, cheer, cheer for Marian Hossa at this point, that's for sure. And he has been earning his money (he has the team's biggest contract) in the past couple games. His first goal ensured the squad would take command of Game 5 in the middle of the first period and his second goal ensured it would put the game away.
And last night, he was a tower of power as he bulled the puck into the Canuck zone near the sideboards late in the overtime session. Analyst Steve Konroyd, who did a great job other than getting a few things exactly wrong when Luongo came in the game, pointed out that Hossa had to use his stick and his skates to keep control of the puck as he did so. Then he did it again as he moved the puck across into the center of the attacking zone.
That enabled him to drop the little pass back to Hjalmarsson, who then sent the perfect point shot on net, which then rebounded back to just the right spot for Ben Smith to reach out and flick a backhander over Luongo, who had awkwardly sprawled across the ice on his belly (even my buddy from gym class never would have done that).
What Konroyd had wrong was the notion that the Hawks should have done anything to get shots on Luongo once the shaky veteran entered the game in the third period. Konroyd's belief was that quick shots, no matter how low-percentage (in terms of their chances of going in), were the Hawks' best chance to take advantage of a rattled netminder.
But Luongo actually would have benefited from a few run-of-the-mill slap shots from the point in the minute or two after he entered the game. That would have been his best chance to really warm up and start getting the confidence going.
The question was eventually moot because the Hawks struggled to mount sustained offensive pressure in the second half of the third period, i.e. they didn't put themselves in position to take long shots to try to throw Luongo off even if they had wanted to.
The Hawks mounted some pressure early in the overtime, resulting in several scoring chances like the aforementioned shot that Luongo had to flail to knock away with the inside of his wrist. But the Canucks had the better of it from about five minutes into the extra period until five minutes remained. Then the Hawks finally put together the scoring chance that finished the deal.
Speaking of Hossa, he was determined not to let little Ben Smith head out on a solo journey of overtime celebration, wasn't he? There would be no Patrick Kane-like, post-goal singular skate back down the ice. Hossa clung to Smith like his life depended on it before the rest of the team arrived to form the glorious, victorious mob.
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Posted on Feb 24, 2017