While Game 7's often can exist without any ancillary hyperbole surrounding them, absolutely every bit of it is deserved in the case of tonight's game in B.C. between the Canucks and Blackhawks The route taken, the opponents involved and their relative statures within the league, and all the on and off ice drama are without precedent not only within the context of hockey, but in all of North American professional sports. Simply put, the Vancouver Canucks are trying to avoid the biggest collapse in sports history, as they could become the the 5th team in sports (3 hockey, 1 baseball) to lose a series they led 3 games to none, the sixth President's Trophy winner to be eliminated in the first round, and the first to do both. After becoming the Canucks of years past in games 4 and 5, Sunday night for Game 6 in the U.C. saw a team that was willing to re-exert itself and dictate the game to the Hawks by denying clear passage through the neutral zone and entry at their blue line. Their penalty killing was without blemish, including a lengthy 5-on-3. And yet still they find themselves here, needing a fourth and final try to extinguish the Hawks. They threw their best punch, and still managed to come up empty, which has precipitated what can best be described as a city-wide case of reefer madness in Vancouver.
GM Mike Gillis thinks the Canucks are getting porked in the differential in penalties called, even though the Hawks took 57 fewer minor penalties than the Canucks in the regular season. Roberto Luongo, already emasculated after coach Alain Vigneault started Corey Schneider in his place in game 6 and was then pressed into duty after Schneider's crotch exploded on Michael Frolik's penalty shot, has stated to the press that it doesn't matter who plays between he and Schneider and that they're equal. This is despite the fact that Luongo is paid more than 10 times Schneider to be anything but. Kevin Bieksa just can't keep from yapping. All of this, however, is a mere distraction, as it has been for the past three years for the problems that lie on the ice. The Sedins have a grand total of 3 points combined since Dave Bolland returned to lurk in their shadows. Ryan Kesler is still without a goal this series, as is Mason Raymond. The supposed depth of the blue line has also been exposed. Dan Hamhuis over the last three games has not been able to contain his assignments, and the third pairing platoon of Sami Salo, Aaron Rome, Andrew Alberts, and Keith Ballard have simply not been able to keep up. With Salo not practicing today, Ballard figures to return to the lineup paired with either Alberts or Rome. But for all that has gone wrong, the Canucks are left with one last opportunity to show the world they can move on, to show them they're bigger mentally and better physically than the Hawks. One game for the long-rumored killer inside either of the Sedins, Luongo, or Ryan Kesler to emerge, and one more game for a waiting hockey world to receive proof of their existence.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, now that they've pushed the Canucks to this point, merely being here is no longer good enough. Do not for one second believe that it is lost on the Hawks' dressing room what they have an opportunity to do tonight, and it's a room of players who have come through when it's been needed most multiple times in the past. They'll have to do it with a different lineup than the last three games, as Bryan Bickell will be out for presumably the remainder of the season with surgery on his lacerate wrist, an injury he had apparently been toughing out. In his stead will be Marcus Kruger with Tomas Kopecky still unable to go, and Fernando Pisani will hopefully be replacing John Scott. Quenneville simply cannot risk over extending his bench with Scott in the lineup, whose choke slam of Alex Burrows intimidated him into his most (read: only) productive night in his playoff career, not to mention not having last change on the road. But we've been proven wrong on this before. All of this puts Troy Brouwer on Bolland's wing along with Frolik, a role he should fill ably, even though that line has done much of the heavy lifting since Bolland's return. That can't be the case tonight. The stars have to be the stars for this to go favorably for the Hawks. We're all looking squarely at you 19, 81, 88, 10, 2, and 7. And though this is still the team that repeatedly had things go balls up on them in third periods throughout the year against the likes of New Jersey, Edmonton, Colorado, and Columbus, these are the moments those players have been counted on before to succeed in, and will have to again this evening in Vancouver.
In the past three seasons, with the chance to eliminate an opponent, the Hawks are 6-1, with their first opportunity of this year coming tonight. The Canucks are 2-3. One bench is full of players who can be counted on to go out and get one when the time is most dire, the other has yet to show that ability. But in a one-game, do-or-die scenario, almost all of that can be thrown out the window. Certainly the route taken has something to do with it, and the tension inside Rogers Arena will be so thick and greasy you could coat a skillet with it, but in a game of random bounces, truly anything can happen. And make no mistake, the outcome of this game has a chance to change the trajectory of possibly both of these franchises for a long time coming. It's time to settle once and for all where the killer instinct truly lies. The board is set, the pieces are moving. We come to it at last, the great battle of our time. Let's go Hawks.