News Playoff Blog: Hawks clip wings of Canada’s last hope

Make it 16 consecutive seasons without a Canadian Stanley Cup champion. The Vancouver Canucks were the last Canadian team this season to fall, losing in six games to the upstart Chicago Blackhawks.
Is it conceivable that all six Canadian teams failed to live up to expectations? The Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers for sure were expected to make the playoffs. The Montreal Canadiens were supposed to build upon last season’s impressive surge and the Calgary Flames were absolutely banking on getting through at least two or three rounds.
The Canucks, with the most dominating goalie in hockey the past few seasons, a balanced lineup and the addition of Mats Sundin, were Canada’s last great hope to at least make the Western Conference final. Didn’t happen.
It could be said only the undermanned Toronto Maple Leafs came close to expectations.
Is Roberto Luongo the Joe Thornton of the goaltending fraternity?
In other words, is the immensely talented Luongo the goalkeeping equivalent of the San Jose Shark leader who for some inexplicable reason can’t raise his game to the next level?
It certainly looks that way after Luongo gave up ill-timed goals in pivotal Game 4, was less than his spectacular self at home in Game 5 and allowed seven goals in Game 6, a must-win game for the Canucks.
Luongo regularly challenged his teammates to raise their game against the Hawks in Round 2, yet he was unable to lead by example. Surely it’s not all Luongo’s fault as many of Chicago’s goals Monday were labelled to the top corners, but fact of the matter is, the usually reliable stopper didn’t answer the bell again in the playoffs.
Who would’ve predicted the ex-Toronto Maple Leaf with the biggest impact on the Vancouver Canucks was not Mats Sundin, but rather Kyle Wellwood.
While in Toronto, Wellwood carried with him a label of being a soft, injury-prone one-dimensional center, whereas Sundin was the productive and consistent warrior. Against the Blackhawks Monday – and through most of the playoffs – Wellwood has played with a resilient, do-whatever-it-takes approach while Sundin was a virtual non-factor.
Wellwood played well in the high-traffic areas and generated scoring chances, including providing a screen on Shane O’Brien’s tying goal in the second period.
Sundin, on the other hand, has shown the odd flash of his old magic scoring on a nice slap shot in Game 4 and the go-ahead goal on the power play in Game 6, but has mostly looked like an old and uninspired Sundin.
Vancouver’s loss likely means the end of Sundin’s stellar NHL career. His half-season with the Canucks surely isn’t enough for Sundin to commit to next season and potential suitors will shy away at his inflated price tag.
Nice career, Mats. Not quite of Hall of Fane standards, but solid.
There’s something wrong if both Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook aren’t strong candidates for Canada’s Olympic team in 2010.
While higher-profile names such as Dion Phaneuf and Jay Bouwmeester are among the favorites on the Canada defense because of their past accomplishments and credentials, neither can measure up to the two-way, puck-moving skills of the Chicago tandem.
Keith and Seabrook are a huge reason why Chicago is among the NHL’s best teams at clearing the defensive zone with quick and efficient transition play.

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Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to You can find his blog each weekend.

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