In an interview earlier today with Rick Ball from Team 1040 Radio, Kevin Bieksa says the Vancouver Canucks have already forgotten about last game and are focused on Game 2 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
After a commanding 5-1 win over the Blackhawks in front of a stunned sell-out crowd at the United Center in Chicago, the Canucks truly seem focused on the task at hand. During the interview with Kevin Bieksa, Rick Ball asked Bieksa if he even knew what day of the week it is. “Actually, I don’t really. I know it’s a weekday, but with the schedule that we’ve had, all we are focused on is the next game. What happened last game happened, we just know we’re ready to work hard.”
In the same segment, shortly after the interview, Team 1040 also featured a short taped interview with Patrick Sharp. The 6’1 Winnipeg center/winger who had 25 goals and 41 assists during the season said the Hawks will be better in Game 2: “We know we’re not in the best situation, but we were also down 1-0 last year, and came back to win the series. We know what we have to do tonight.”
Although the series is still in the infantile stages, I can’t help but sense a different energy surrounding the Canucks. The coaching staff, particularly Alain Vigneault, have been preaching “Poise” to the club. One can’t help but sense an air of maturity surrounding the team, the kind of maturity that comes with lessons learned in previous playoff experiences. The job that Assistant Coach Rick Bowness has done with his somewhat depleted defensive core illustrates that. After an abysmal start to the Los Angeles series, Andrew Alberts has received the message concerning poise. It would have been easy for Bowness just to preclude that Alberts wasn’t going to be a proper fit based on Games 1 and 2 of that series. One game into this series with the Blackhawks, it appears coaching and patience is being rewarded, as Alberts IS fitting into the scheme of things.
Tom Larscheid was also interviewed on the Team 1040, and he stressed the importance of Game 2 at length. He said that both he and analyst John Shorthouse are really looking forward to tonights match-up, with what should be a very motivated and energetic Hawks team. “Patrick Kane in particular tonight will be looking to play a more pivotal role. The Canucks coaching staff credited him with 14 scoring chances in Game One. The Hawks outshot the Canucks, they outhit the Canucks, and were better in the faceoff circle at 55 per cent. If anyone is going to help the Blackhawks have success in Game Two, it’s Patrick Kane. He’s a real beauty.”
Though it was ultimately their team game that produced their loss in 6 games last year, hockey pundits still shifted a fair amount of blame on Roberto Luongo. As I have mentioned before, Luongo was able to move on from that tear-inducing experience, though perhaps not everyone has. But what we saw in Game One was a goaltender that has confidence, one that is mentally prepared for this series, if not for a long playoff experience.
Particularly in the first period was Luongo able to set the tone for how the rest of the game would play out. With the United Center crowd still in a tizzy after the lead-up and anticipation of this fantastic series, Luongo kept very composed. He would make several great stops in the first period, not allowing the Hawks to gain that all-important momentum at home. He gave the Canucks the opportunity they needed to gain offensive chances, which they have been very adept at capitalizing upon in each playoff game thus far. Once they got fired up early in the 2nd period, it seemed that with sheer will alone they could find ways to score, and they did. While tonight could prove different, I am quite sold on Luongo’s ability to quell any notion that he can’t produce in the playoffs. He can, and quite simply has been one of the best (goaltenders) so far in these 2010 playoffs.
Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville has decided to make some lineup changes headed into Game Two. It appears Brian Bickell will be moved down to the third line, while BC product Troy Brouwer will join Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the first line. Jordan Henry gets the bump off the main roster in favor of adding some toughness in Ben Eager, who will get 4th line time. It also appears Dustin Byfuglien will move to the 2nd line with Patrick Sharp, although he might also draw back onto defense, which Quenneville said will be a game-time decision.
On so many levels, Game Two will be significant for posturing in the the series for both teams. While the Blackhawks have had some adversity thus far, most agree that the difference between the Nashville Predators and the Vancouver Canucks is a large one. Tom Larscheid pointed to speed as a key factor, especially in comparison to the Hawks opening series and the one they find themselves in now. Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond and Alex Burrows were a large part of that equation in Game One. It remains to be seen if the Blackhawks can counter that speed, or negate some of it with a more physical presence, as it appears will be the focus tonight. Stay tuned, this exciting series has a lot more hockey to be played.
Because I was unable to further preview Round 2, I am calling the Canucks to take this series in 6 games. Look for a preview for Game three right here on the Canuck Way.