I’m not going to lie – I went to bed midway through Chicago’s series-clinching victory against Vancouver in Game 6. Why? Because with a quick-strike 2-0 lead and no pushback from the Nucks by the next commercial break, I knew how things were going to play out: same as last year when the Hawks ran over Vancouver to eliminate them in six games.
Plus, I wake up really early and get grumpy when I don’t get maximum sleep. So there.
Seriously though, by the time Kevin Bieksa coughed up the puck, directly leading to Chicago’s second goal in 36 seconds, the writing was on the wall: Vancouver’s defense was too banged up and too thin to succeed. The fact forwards such as Kyle Wellwood, who was great in Game 5, chose not to backcheck with any semblance of pluck, did not help matters.
In burying the Canucks, the question must be asked: Did GM Mike Gillis do enough to prepare this team for the playoffs? Willie Mitchell hadn’t played a game since mid-January and you don’t bank on a concussed blueliner rushing back. Christian Ehrhoff was obviously a great addition in the summer, but the Canucks clearly needed more.
Sami Salo courageously suited up for Game 6 after a brutal injury to his mid-section the match before, but where were the reinforcements? Montreal has thrived and survived thanks to the ascension of P.K. Subban, which has tempered the loss of top dog Andrei Markov. But Van City has no Subban, to be sure.
Vancouver had reached its post trade-deadline call-up limit (four), but a quick scan of the Manitoba Moose roster reveals no tangible candidates anyway. Vancouver’s black aces were Aaron Rome and Nolan Baumgartner, neither of whom were deemed better than a hobbled Salo.
And I hate to say it Vancouver fans, but things aren’t getting better next year. The team has five NHL defensemen under contract (Salo, Ehrhoff, Bieksa, Alex Edler and Andrew Alberts) but needs a replacement for Mitchell and at least two more solid blueliners, especially given Salo’s injury history and the reticence of the team to use Alberts much.
With about $9 million of cap space for next season, the team also needs to sign a backup goaltender (whither hot-shot RFA Cory Schneider?) and at least four or five forwards. Sound like fun?
The Canucks have no prospect defensemen on THN’s Future Watch top 50, either. Sure, there are fringe veterans or youngsters who can play during the regular season, but Vancouver must be built for playoff hockey from here on out.
BIG, BAD BUFF
Once again, Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien was the death-knell for Vancouver and I’m intrigued to see what ‘Big Buff’ can do against San Jose. The 6-foot-3, 246-pound (OK, it may be more than that) behemoth once again played an integral role in Chicago’s pounding of the Canucks, this time knocking out Alex Edler with a hit equal parts punishing and awkward in the first period of Game 6. Byfuglien has always been a physical player, but has turned it on in the post-season.
Through two rounds, ‘Big Buff’ is top-10 in hits in the NHL with 37, while he ranked 14th in the regular season with 215 in 82 games. Vancouver had trouble containing him in front of the net, but what happens when he squares off against 6-foot-4 future Hall of Famer Rob Blake, 6-foot-3, 240-pound Douglas Murray or 6-foot-4 Stanley Cup winner Kent Huskins? A good sub-plot to watch for.
THN Puck Panel: Canucks fall to soaring Hawks
PRODUCER: Ted Cooper | PRODUCTION ASSISTANT: Jason Cassidy
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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