12:35 AM CDT, April 14, 2011
The Vancouver Canucks have won Game 1 of their playoff series against the Blackhawks each of the last three years after a 2-0 waste of time Wednesday. We know how the first two turned out. This time? Not so sure. Not so sure at all.
Those were better Hawks teams. Those were Hawks teams that were ready to win. This one? It couldn't get itself ready after the break of a lifetime to even get a ticket to the postseason.
If the Hawks thought they were prepared for playoff hockey on the road, they were wrong. The Canucks jumped them early. Smothered them. Made them look like amateurs. The Canucks outskated and outhit the Hawks. Outscored them, too.
Chris Higgins tipped in a Kevin Bieksa slap shot at 7:03 after Patrick Sharp got caught deep. About three minutes later, Duncan Keith got stripped inside the Vancouver blue line, and Jannik Hansen converted a breakaway. Two-nothing. Too much.
Sharp and Keith ought to know better. They certainly have to play better. Smarter. They aren’t playoff rookies. They’re Stanley Cup champions.
Another defending champion, Brian Campbell, who was a minus-2 on the night, nearly scored a potential game-changing goal late in the first period, and even had his stick raised. But Roberto Luongo, tortured so often by the Hawks, went post-to-post to get a toe on the shot that also caromed off the post.
Caroming off the post happened a lot to the Hawks, but before you moan about it, remember the Canucks hit several themselves.
That’s not to diminish the job Corey Crawford did in the Hawks net. In fact, he was their best player, making terrific save after terrific save against the highest-scoring team in the league to continually give his team a chance.
And the Hawks had chances eventually. Patrick Kane nearly banked a shot off Luongo from behind the net on a power play early in the second period. Shortly after that, Troy Brouwer’s lead pass sailed too far as Marian Hossa broke behind everyone.
The missed chances reflected a playoff-like second period by the Hawks. Finally. Well, they were skating better and more aggressively. But they couldn’t finish. If Kane and Hossa had connected, there’s a good chance the Canucks would’ve given the Hawks a lot more, and who knows how crazy that would’ve made Luongo?
As it was, the Canucks looked like they tried to sit on the lead, and they aren’t good at that. They gave the Hawks room to skate and some confidence in moving the puck. Late in the second period, the Hawks had three straight dangerous shifts.
But still nothing.
Question was, would the Hawks’ strong play in the second period carry over to the third?
Answer was, sorta.
The Hawks tried to work the puck deep and make the Vancouver defense turn around to chase it, but the Canucks played a smarter, more effective third period than I thought they could against the Hawks. They made sure to get the puck out, and there was none of that scrambley, dicey nonsense in their own zone. They gave the Hawks a lot of time in the offensive zone, but so much of it was on the perimeter because the Canucks jumped the puck exceptionally well.
And hit the Hawks incredibly often. The scoresheet said Vancouver punished the Hawks with 47 hits compared to 21 the Hawks delivered. That’s a big reason a ridiculous number of Hawks passes hit teammates’ skates instead of the tape. All of that has to change. The Hawks cannot play as soft as they did in Game 1. Nor can they move the puck as sloppily.
After blowing their fourth power play, the Hawks got mad at the end of Game 1. Now maybe they can figure out to start Game 2.
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