I pondered something as I watched the Chicago Blackhawks lose on Sunday to the Detroit Red Wings; do you think the Vancouver Canucks secretly through a huge party?
Let’s face it; in the last two years that the Blackhawks have returned to relevancy they can largely thank the Canucks for their resurgence.
In 2009 the Blackhawks shook the United Center to the ground in game 6 as Patrick Kane lit the lamp three times and the Blackhawks moved on to the Western Conference finals 7-5. Last year the Hawks got into the Canucks heads and baited them into several horrible penalties on their way to another series win as the Canucks were left shaking their heads for answers and Roberto Luongo’s stock as a big-time goalie took a huge hit.
So this year as the Canucks ascended to the top of the West despite a ton of injuries they were probably thinking that maybe, just maybe when the chaos of the 3-8 seeds was finally over with that they would have an enjoyable matchup where their offense would overpower the other opponent and once again overshadow a ridiculously banged up defense. Nope.
The Blackhawks did lose and their playoff lives were in the hands of the Minnesota Wild who needed to beat the even more wildly inconsistent Dallas Stars for them to make the playoffs. And when Pierre Marc-Bouchard’s empty netter clinched the Hawks playoff berth British Columbia collectively had to go, “not again.”
Blackhawks Center Ryan Johnson said this week that the Hawks were in the Canucks heads, how could they not be?
Kane, Jonathan Toews and company have owned the Canucks whether its in Chicago or Vancouver. Last year the Hawks beat the Canucks in all 3 home playoff games and embarrassed Luongo in each contest. The Blackhawks physical style got the Canucks out of their game and out of character especially in game 4 when Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows and others took horrible penalties that led to 3 power play goals and left Vancouver for dead.
So even though the Hawks come into this series as the 8th seed and start out on the road you would have to think that its just water under the bridge for them.
The Canucks are facing a fate that many teams in other sports had to face on their way to the top of their sport. Jordan’s Bulls had to beat Thomas’s Pistons, the Red Sox had to conquer the Yankees and Vancouver has to beat Chicago if it wants to play in June for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin have to lead the Canucks past this Midwest bully that has its number. This team has to avoid the bad penalties that killed them last year and Luongo in particular has to play up to the level that he’s played at in the regular season. Luongo was a top 10 goalie in all major categories from save percentage, GAA and wins this year. Luongo has to play at least a fifth better in this series than last year if Vancouver has a shot.
Though they say that they are different from year’s past (and it shows as the Canucks have become a more disciplined team this year.) this is where it counts. All of the regular season fireworks displayed by the offense and defensive injuries don’t matter now for Vancouver. To get past a hated rival they’ve got to do it in the postseason starting tonight when it really matters.
If not then it’ll be another early exit and another offseason wondering what in the world they have to do to beat the Chicago Blackhawks. Even worse they may start believing that they can’t beat them and those “Not Again’s” will turn into “no way in hell.”