VANCOUVER – Chicago captain Jonathan Toews knew his first goal of the post-season was going to be a big one.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks he didn’t have a second game-changer left in him.
Toews scored his first goal of the series in the 58th minute of Game 7 to send the game to overtime, but it wasn’t enough for his team to eliminate Vancouver from the playoffs for a third straight year.
“I try to contribute to this team by scoring goals and making plays,” Toews said after Tuesday’s gut-wrenching 2-1 overtime loss that ended a Cinderella comeback from a 3-0 deficit.
“I kept telling myself there’s going to be a big one coming and we got that one at the end to give ourselves a chance.”
He got it by bursting through Vancouver defenders and willing the puck past Canuck netminder Roberto Luongo.
“One more, that’s all we needed,” Toews said. “Coming up just a little bit short is pretty shocking.”
Luongo said not many NHL players could have matched Toews’s effort on the equalizer.
“That’s why he won the Conn Smythe, the MVP of the Olympics,” said Luongo who faced 32 Chicago shots. “It was a massive play by him short handed and that’s why he’s the leader of that team.”
The cruel defeat came after the Blackhawks said they had come too far to lose Game 7.
They claimed they wrested the momentum in the Western Conference quarter-final from the favoured Canucks and the pressure was all on Vancouver.
But Canuck pest Alex Burrows ended Chicago’s reign as Stanley Cup champions after taking a penalty in overtime.
He scored the game-winner unassisted at 5:22 by knocking down defenceman Chris Campoli’s clearing attempt and blasting the puck behind rookie netminder Corey Crawford.
Burrows also beat Crawford 2:43 into the game when Chicago was caught on a line change.
But the Blackhawks netminder gave his club a chance to win by outwaiting Burrows on a penalty shot early in the third period.
Crawford, who blanked Vancouver 5-0 here in Game 5 didn’t know who ended his season.
“It was a bouncing puck, the guy just took off for the slot, teed it up,” he said after a 36-save performance.
“I don’t know if it went off our (defenceman’s) stick or not. The guy made a great play.”
Chicago forward Troy Brouwer said it was a typical Stanley Cup overtime goal.
“It’s never usually that pretty play that scores a goal,” he said. “It’s something that happens, bad bounce or a lucky play.”
Campoli was moist-eyed in the subdued dressing room of a club that ended a 49-year Stanley Cup drought last year but needed an off-season makeover because of salary cap issues.
“The ultimate goal, we didn’t get there,” Campoli said. “I’m just disappointed.”
The series began with the Canucks appearing ready to exact revenge upon the defending champions who eliminated them in six-game conference semi-finals the last two seasons.
Then Chicago rallied around the return from concussion by forward Dave Bolland and a shoulder-to-the-head hit by Raffi Torres on Brent Seabrook, winning Games 4 and 5 by blowout scores.
Chicago forced a deciding game Sunday by beating Vancouver 4-3 on Ben Smith’s overtime winner and Crawford’s 32 saves.
“Everyone talks about Luongo and how good he is and how much pressure there is on him,” Toews said. “Everyone probably underestimates how much pressure there is on a young kid like Corey Crawford.
“How he deals with it, I don’t know. He was absolutely unbelievable throughout the whole series and especially tonight. He gave us a chance to win. You can’t ask for anything more.”
The hard-nosed Brouwer said his club had to grind away for nearly the whole game before scoring a short-handed goal to tie.
“But that just shows what determination we had tonight,” said Brouwer, who was looking for that momentum to carry into overtime.
“Going into overtime we thought maybe just because it’s been such a series we’d get a good bounce. We had a power play early and got a good look, a few good looks and Luongo made some big stops.”
While the Canucks were trying not to join the 1942 Detroit Red Wings, the 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2010 Boston Bruins by gagging on a 3-0 series lead, Chicago had a tough first-round opponent after squeezing into the playoffs.
Vancouver had a club-record 117 points in its 40th anniversary season, 20 more than Chicago.
They led the NHL in scoring, allowed the fewest goals, had the best power play and tied for second killing penalties.
A blue-line corps depleted by injuries during the regular season was serendipitously intact by the last game before the playoffs.
In the end, the Canucks’depth, talent and rediscovered resolve proved too much for the Hawks.
“I’m not going to be a sore loser,” said Toews.
“You have to show some respect for the team that beat you. We’ve had some good series in the past but I have to say that’s been the best one.”
NOTES: Luongo and Blackhawks Toews, Seabrook and Duncan Keith won Olympic gold on Rogers arena ice in the 2010 Winter Games … it was the 10th Game 7 in Vancouver history with the Canucks winning six of them … Chicago’s last Game 7 was in 1995 when they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round.