Situation: Critical

Following their 5-2  loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3, the Canucks have essentially one option in Game 4: Win.

Jonathan Toews tries to jam the puck past Roberto Luongo in the second period of Game 3 (all photos courtesy of Yardbarker)

Although the Minnesota Wild managed to come from behind twice in one playoff run while down three games to one (against the Colorado Avalanche and our beloved Canucks), it is the exception, not the rule in the NHL.  Very few teams are able to win 3 straight games in a series, particularly when the opposition has dominated them in the early going.  Already having lost the ability to claw home ice advantage away from the Blackhawks, much more is at stake tonight in Game 4.  The Canucks, who owned one of the leagues best home records (30-8-3) during the regular season, are finding it much more difficult to win at home in the post-season.  Unfortunately, with 3 games in books already, many fans can’t help feelings of deja vu from their series with the Hawks from last season.  Vancouver won Game 1, were up 2-0 early in Game 2, but lost the lead, lost momentum while Chicago gained it, and went on to play from behind the rest of the series.  With these “sinking feelings” (as Team 1040 Radio polled listeners about yesterday), I want to examine 4 crucial aspects of Game 4.

Shane O’Brien tries to slow up Kris Versteeg of the Chicago Blackhawks, May 5th 2010 at GM Place

Defensive match-ups:  Alain Vigneault already has his hands full matching his forwards against the suddenly gritty, physical Hawks.  Therefore, Rick Bowness’ value to the team is immeasurable right now, as he will try to adjust to the Hawks crashing style of attack.  The defenders down low have been losing a lot of the one-on-one battles in the corners, and that has to be corrected if Vancouver has any hope remaining in this series.  Three of the Hawk goals were scored because Canuck defenders either couldn’t keep pace with, or physically handle the forecheckers.   It’s glaringly apparent that Vancouver cannot keep Chicago forwards from going hard to the net, nor do much about it when they have done it, so it’s key to limit the opportunities where the puck gets to the net, with more than one Hawk in front of Luongo.  This all starts by keeping the puck from getting there, with the board-play being the catalyst for that.

Daniel Sedin has his in-tight shot hit Niemi’s leg pad, bounce up, but not over on a crucial first period chance

Offensive zone net presence:  Canucks fans can complain till they’re blue in the face about Chicago not getting called for goaltender interference, but it won’t change referee’s minds.  I’m also not certain about Vigneault’s seeming change of heart on the matter; for whatever reason, the refereeing seems to favor the Hawks thus far in the series.  Though I thoroughly believe they need more traffic in front of Niemi, I feel Vancouver’s luck would dictate penalty calls against them should they try Chicago’s pushing and shoving ways.  But Niemi is getting far too good of looks at the puck when Canucks get them through (more on this in a moment), and that MUST change.  You would be hard-pressed to find any proof from Game 3 that the Canucks have established the same presence around the net that they thrived on during the regular season.  Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Steve Bernier need to get closer to the blue paint for the Canucks to stand a chance tonight of evening the series.

Hopefully Daniel Sedin stays focused on putting pressure on Niemi, not worrying about Blackhawks “role players” (read: average at best)

Getting shots through to the net:  Particularly is this vital on their suffering powerplay.  It’s hard to recall a time when the Canucks had so few shots make it through on goal.  Perhaps it comes down to the Blackhawks wanting it more, but there are Hawks laying down, crouching, going to one knee and even putting their hands out to block shots.  I’m not aware of any exasperation on Sami Salo’s part, but there should be.  On multiple power-play opportunities, he’s only been able to get the odd wrist-shot on net.  His inability to get off that cannonade from the point exemplifies Vancouver’s frustrated attempts on goal.  I recognize that the forecheckers are getting to the point in a hurry, but that’s where they need to utilize the fein shot or to fake a pass; anything to buy an extra second to step around and let it off.  No shots through, no goals.  Because Chicago is very proactive going after the point men, it’s imperative they try to set up more along the half-wall, which eventually should open up room for the point shots, or the down low play.

Roberto Luongo watches as a John Madden chance just goes wide of the net (photo courtesy of Yardbarker)

Luongo’s rebound control:  Serveral of the Canucks’ gaffes have occurred when Luongo hasn’t been able to seize control of a loose puck in front of him.  No, he isn’t to blame for the puck getting there in the first place, but for some reason he’s not exhibiting that same type of control that helped make him a star.  Anttii Niemi should not be outplaying Luongo in this series, but some are stating that he already has.  The Blackhawks are purposefully trying to get Luongo to go down, because they feel that is when he is most vulnerable.  Of course, most goaltenders are more prone when they’re off their feet, but with the damage the Hawks are doing when Roberto is off his, the signs are clear.  Asking Luongo for more than two consecutive saves when he’s committed to playing off his feet is asking for a lot.

The Vancouver Canucks will need to play tonight like their playoff lives are on the line, because the numbers don’t lie:  Teams that go down three games to one in the Stanley Cup playoffs are usually golfing within the week.  If the above 4 keys aren’t implemented, you might spot one of the Canucks at your local golf course after the weekend.

Mason Raymond is decked by Jordan Henry in Game 3. The Canucks literally need to push back, and soon, for this series to mean anything

Topics: 2010 NHL Playoffs, Antti Niemi, Chicago Blackhawks, Daniel Sedin, Roberto Luongo, Ryan Kesler, Sami Salo, Vancouver Canucks

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  • Big AL

    The Blackhawks are to physical and to fast for Canucks. The Hawks BIG BUFF has not only gotten into their heads, but has gotten the puck into their goal.

    • Rich

      Its a team-sport last time I checked, so the play of “big buff” is irrelevent if the canucks can mount sustained pressure.

  • Chi City finest

    The Blackhawks are the best team in the NHL hands down, and the cry baby Canucks do not stand a chance with their pretty boy drama queen in net!

    • HC

      Cry baby Canucks?
      It may seem like that to your franchise, but you have nothing going against you.
      All the penalties being called are going towards the ‘Hawks favor, and I can’t expect ANY team to kill off every single penalty.
      Chicago has no idea about what hockey really is.
      They’ve got Kane and Toews and they think they’re the most elite team in the NHL.
      Well guess what Chi City finest, Hockey is CANADA’S game and the Cup will only be coming to Canada this year.

      • Feathered Friend

        The Canucks have received a total of ONE more minor penalty over the first 3 games than the Blackhawks. That is hardly a case of “All the penalties being called are going towards the ‘Hawks favor.” Given that the Blackhawks did not attempt to “send a message” when down and out in game one, I’d say that when considering the way the Canucks allowed frustration to get the best of them nearing the end of game 3, the calls that have been made have been, in fact, in the Canucks favor. Now, if you want to argue non-calls, I’ll also point out that I haven’t noticed any roughing or interference calls made on any Canucks attempting to keep Byfuglien out of Luo’s face. I don’t mean to offend here, but I was impressed by the article, this comment just seemed too off-base to leave unchecked…

  • RB

    Lets see if the refs will call a fair game for once fuck the hawks

    • chitown

      Whether the Hawks win or lose listening to all you crying Canucks fans has got me rolling on the floor. Face it we have two quality teams battling it out. This is awesome hockey!

  • Antique1

    I am a lifelong fan of the Hawks, however I disagree with Chi City finest.
    The Canucks are a very good and talent-laden team. I think it has been a very good series thus far and believe it will be until someone wins.
    However, I have to disagree that the officiating has been in the Hawks favor. Look at the box scores, the numbers don’t lie.

    • HC

      Numbers aren’t everything.
      They’re giving the ‘Hawks amazing chances to capitalize on, and though we’ve had our chances too, we’ve just had bad calls made on the ice throughout this entire series.
      The ‘Hawks have been crashing the net constantly but NOT ONE goaltender interference call.
      I get it, teams are supposed to drive to the net, but this goes beyond the limit. And sadly, this is what is costing us the game.

  • allaround

    just two things. one…..if i looked correctly vancouver has two more penalties than the blackhawks so far. thats not exactly a number that tells me the officiating has been squarely in chicago’s favor. second of all, in regards to the incessant remarks about goaltender interference or the lack of calling it….the blackhawks have played a very smart game. they make sure they are crashing the net with canucks along for the ride. only once that i have seen has there been the potential for a call that wasnt made. every other time the blackhawks have been crashing the net with help from the canucks defenders. if vancouver wants goaltender interference calls then they need to find a way to move chicago out from in front of the net without helping push them into it. because in all honesty on the plays that people are asking for goaltender interference there has always been a vancouver player trying to push chicago out but instead pushing them into luongo.

  • chicity22

    Maybe the Hawks wouldn’t put so much pressure on Luongo if he wasn’t the one ALWAYS screwing up. Honestly if you are an “Olympic caliber” goalie and you can’t control a puck, you deserve to be pushed around. And the reason you Canadians are bitching is because Chicago had the same problems in game one you do now. We fixed it.

  • VanCityVendetta

    I’ll give it you chitown, two great teams going head to head. And I’ll even go furthur and say that Chi City finest was right too – the Canucks need to stop complaining!!! If Van is to win, they need to shut up, nose to the grindstone and WORK for it.

    Watch out Chi City finest, cause payback is a bitch when you run your mouth!

  • Howard Marks

    Let’s face it–the Blackhawks are just a better team with their willingness to crash the net and a hot goalie. Watch the Hawks go up 3-1, because they have the killer instinct.

  • http://nhlsource.wordpress.com/ Tony

    I agree with chitown. Although i am a Canucks fan, and think that the Canucks are going to win it in 7, I can’t help wondering why everyone is trash talking the other team and not just admiring the great quality of the games we’re seeing. I may not like the Blackhawks, but you can’t deny that they are a great team, equal to if not better than the Canucks. Anyway, no matter what happens I’ll still be happy with the great hockey i saw in this series. Go Canucks Go! The Cup’s coming to Vancouver this year!

  • XJS&JAZZ

    I’m a life long Blackhawks fan and also just a hockey fan.
    I’ve watched as many games of the Playoffs as I could.
    In every game of every series, there has been complaining about the officiating.
    It’s been done by both team and their fans in each series in every game.
    The bad/strange/missed, etc calls ALWAYS go both ways.
    There have been games during the reg season and the Playoffs where I’ve seen some of the Hawks players whining at the zebras and forgetting to play the game.
    I’ve seen all teams do this.
    That said, the Hawks have won three straight games and, last night they totally blew Vancouver right off all of their game.
    You may whine about bad calls however, there actually were several instances whereby your players DID forget to play with skill and let it get to them.
    We all want our team to win and get disappointed/disgusted when they lose.
    All that said, I will say that Vancouver cannot play at the level of the Blackhawks.
    I believe they’re the best team in the league right now and have the best chance of winning the Cup.
    For those of you who cannot get past insulting the other team and/or its fans, it is your turn.
    I didn’t need to get into that.

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