If the Vancouver Canucks are to get by the Chicago Blackhawks in this Western Conference semifinal series, they’ll have to do it with the total team effort they displayed Tuesday night, not rely on the goaltending of Roberto Luongo or the strength of their defense corps.
The Canucks did a terrific job clogging the scoring areas against Chicago and keeping the Blackhawks to the outside, coming away with a 3-1 victory in Game 3. Make no mistake though, Luongo was solid on the heels of a 6-3 loss in Game 2 and the Canucks defense stepped up despite the absence of injured Sami Salo.
The biggest stopper for Vancouver in protecting a 3-0 lead was the constant player movement in the defensive zone and the adept stick work blocking passes, shots and steering away rebounds. Every time the Hawks put on pressure, they were stymied by either smart coverage on behalf of the Canucks, or Luongo at the doorstep.
The point was made by CBC commentators Scott Oake and Marc Crawford that the addition of Taylor Pyatt back to the lineup following an 11-game absence after the death of his fiancee provided added inspiration to a team that blew a 2-0 lead in Game 2. That may be true, but the Canucks were the better team from the drop of the puck to the final buzzer. Luongo said it was Vancouver’s best game of the playoffs.
OVER THE GLASS
Nobody, it seems, complains anymore when a defender inadvertently clears the puck over the glass, picking up a minor penalty for delay of game.
It happened three times in Chicago Tuesday and five times in the past two games. Each time, the guilty player skated to the penalty box without argument and there was no screaming or complaining coming from the coaches or commentators.
That’s a nice change following several years of opposition, mostly by members of the media. Clearly, the teams and players understand it’s a foul – not unlike too many men on the ice – and finally the fifth estate is accepting it as well.
NO KANE, NO GAIN
The Hawks clearly need Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp to play more like their creative selves if Chicago is to generate consistent offense.
Kane and Sharp were physically manhandled by the likes of Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Willie Mitchell in Game 3 Tuesday and it’s affecting the top line with Jonathan Toews. Don’t be surprised if Chicago coach Joel Quenneville inserts rugged Ben Eager into the wing spot on the Toews-Kane line to act as protection. Big Troy Brouwer had some shifts on the top unit, but the punishment continued.
The downside to Chicago’s mostly mobile defense is it’s not mean enough to exact similar punishment on the Sedins, Mason Raymond and Kyle Wellwood the way Vancouver’s defensive bruisers wear down the Hawks’ stars.
It’s been mentioned before, but don’t miss the chance to watch Jim Cornelison belt out the national anthems before Game 4 Thursday. No one in any sport does a better job. Even Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo admits to getting chills listening to the renditions. The end of the U.S. anthem – with your volume on high – is especially moving, whether you’re Canadian or American. Thankfully, we no longer pay attention to the critics who say do away with the anthems.
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Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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