VANCOUVER – General manager Mike Gillis is blaming the referees for the Vancouver Canucks being forced to play a Game 7 in their NHL playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Gillis said his team has its back against the wall because more penalties are being called against the Canucks than Chicago.
“I’m not sure how you explain that discrepancy, but we’re going to be very hard-pressed to win hockey games if throughout the entire series, when the score is tight, they get 75 per cent more power plays than we do,” Gillis said Monday.
“That’s the facts we are facing.”
Coach Alain Vigneault said goaltender Roberto Luongo will start for the Canucks Tuesday (CBC, 10 p.m. ET). In a surprise move, Vigneault started backup Cory Schneider in Game 6 Sunday night in Chicago.
“He (Luongo) knew yesterday he was either going to start Game 1 of the next series or start Game 7,” said Vigneault.
A playoff that began with Vancouver being favoured to win the Stanley Cup can end in one of the most embarrassing meltdowns in franchise history. The Canucks took a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final series but have lost three consecutive games.
Gillis said Vancouver’s 4-3 overtime loss Sunday was an example of the calls going against his team.
“I thought we played our best game of the series last night,” said Gillis. “I felt if it would have been a level playing field we would have won the game.
“We were lucky to get into overtime the way things occurred during the game. …For us to come away with a loss is shocking to me. I’m very confident if we play the same way tomorrow evening, and it’s a level playing field, that we’ll win the game.”
The Blackhawks had four power plays Sunday while Vancouver had two. Neither team scored a power-play goal but Chicago tied the game on a penalty shot.
Overall in the series, Chicago has been on the power play 27 times compared to 16 for Vancouver. In the last four games, the Blackhawks have had 22 power plays and Vancouver 12.
Canuck captain Henrik Sedin shied away from any criticism of the officials.
“We know Mike is dealing with the league and we are focusing on the game,” said Henrik, who has no goals in the series.
Gillis was angry over a play in overtime Sunday when Chicago’s Bryan Bickell hit Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa behind the net. Bickell put a shoulder to Bieksa’s head, but no penalty was called.
Earlier in the series Vancouver’s Raffi Torres was given a two-minute penalty for a shoulder to the head of Brent Seabrook, causing the Chicago defenceman to miss two games. The Hawks were angry Torres was not suspended and have used the hit as a rallying cry.
“All kinds of people called for him (Torres) to be suspended for multiple games,” said Gillis. “In my opinion, that hit last night (on Bieksa) was clearly a charging play. His head was targeted.”
Gillis also criticized Chicago for using huge forward John Scott.
“When a guy who is six foot eight, who has basically one thing on his resume which is to punch people in the face, gets to punch people in the face, we expect that to be called,” he said.
“We’ve asked our guys not to retaliate, not become part of it. But it’s awfully difficult to continue with that stream of consciousness when nothing results from it.”
Gillis denied his rant was a ploy to divert attention from the fact the Canucks could become just the fourth team in NHL history to lose a series after leading 3-0.
“I’m not allowing anyone off the hook,” the lawyer and former player agent said calmly. “I am being realistic about what I see. I am being factual.
“I’m not jumping up and down and screaming about diving. I am telling you about the facts. They are undeniable.”
The Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy for having the best regular-season record in the NHL. The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks needed a loss by Dallas on the final day of the season to back into the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
Chicago forward Patrick Kane said few people gave his team any hope of forcing the seriesto the limit.
”I still feel all the pressure’s on them,” said Kane. ”They’re the ones up 3-0. They’re the first seed in the West. They were kind of predicted to win the Cup this year.
“We didn’t really have any of that pressure on us.”
The Canucks are going to need a solid game from Luongo and more production from their best players if they hope to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
The Canucks have just two players with two or more goals, while Chicago has seven. The Hawks have two players with a minus-rating heading into Game 7 while Vancouver has 13.
Canuck centre Ryan Kesler had 41 goals in the regular season but none in the playoffs. Forward Alex Burrows had 26 goals playing on the line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, but scored his first of the playoffs Sunday.
Vigneault said Schneider, who left Sunday’s game with cramps, will be available to play in Game 7. Defenceman Sami Salo, who left early with an undisclosed injury, remains a question mark.
There were grey clouds and a cold rain in Vancouver Monday, weather that matched the city’s mood. Canuck fans who were planning a Stanley Cup parade are now contemplating one of the biggest disappointments in franchise history.
“Nightmare” was the headline in the Vancouver Province.
“All the promise, all the talk, means nothing now,” columnist Ed Willes wrote in The Province. “It comes down to one game which will be remembered in this market for a long, long time.”
The mood was much different in Chicago.
“Chicago, delirious. Vancouver, suicidal,” wrote Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Rosenbloom.
“The first one, I’m sure about. The second is a good guess. This is a meltdown of epic proportions, even for the weak-willed Canucks. There’s not enough Kokanee (beer) in British Columbia to anesthetize the province.”
There is past history between the teams. Chicago has eliminated Vancouver from the second round of the playoffs the last two seasons.
This year was supposed to be different.
“Playoffs, it’s a roller-coaster,” said Burrows. “You don’t try to get too high or too low.
“We just feel we’ve got to play a good home game tomorrow and feed off the energy from our fans.”
The Canucks have a 5-3 record in Game 7’s. In 1994 Vancouver lost the Stanley Cup final in seven games against the New York Rangers.
During the 2003 playoffs the Canucks played two seven-game series. Vancouver trailed the St. Louis Blues 3-1 in the Western Conference quarter-final but battled to win the series. In the next round the Canucks took a 3-1 lead over the Minnesota Wild only to lose the next three games.