When my brother asked me how I felt following the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 5, I told him that no matter what happens from here on out, I have “a sense of closure”.
Much like the Detroit Red Wings’ 7-1, Game 4 victory over the San Jose Sharks in front of Joe Louis Arena faithfuls, the Canucks have earned some redemption. Though the Red Wings lost a close one the following game in San Jose, it was nonetheless a classy display put on by Niklas Lidstrom and company. There is far too much pride and respect within the Wings’ organization to allow a team to sweep them out of the playoffs. Now, I’m not comparing the Wings and Canucks’ history or achievements; obviously closer to apples and oranges they couldn’t be. But the Canucks reached down and mustered a statement, as beat up as they were coming into the game, and that show of heart is not lost on Canuck followers.
No more evident was this mentality and committment than Sami Salo at the end of the first period, with the Blackhawks on the power play. With literally just over a second remaining, Salo did what many Canucks did in Game 5: Put his body on the line. Perhaps one of the most notable things the Canucks had yet to match the Blackhawks in during this series to this point was sacrificing the body. Though Salo was jostling with a Hawk forward and the puck was slightly redirected, he was still fighting to get into the lane when it happened. It cost him a lot of pain, and a trip to Northwestern hospital (injury is still undisclosed, but it is believed he may have suffered a ruptured testicle). Alex Burrows also was willing to sacrifice his body, which probably saved a goal against, as he sprawled, throwing his left hand up to deflect a power play chance about 18-20 feet in front of Luongo. The puck went harmlessly up over the glass to stop play, and helped Vancouver maintain it’s 3-1 lead at that point.
Crease-crasher Dustin Byfuglien turned out to be a non-factor in the game, but mostly because the Canucks did a much better job in the defensive zone. Particularly different was their approach and foresight when handling the forecheckers along the half-wall. Quite often, the defense would support each other, having one defender ready to force the play to reverse up the other wall. If one was checking the player along the half-wall, the other was ready to take the Blackhawk behind the net, but also ready to kick off to one side of the net to counter a wrap around attempt or pass into the slot. Not just particularly because of scoring a couple of timely goals, but if Kevin Bieksa has had a better game in his career, I’m not aware of it. I feel he was the most cerebral player on the ice in Game 5, and showed a lot of vision and patience in his 27 minutes of work. On one Chicago power play, he battled with one of two forwards behind Luongo’s net, and gained control of the puck. But as he was skating the puck out the left side, felt the winger collapsing along the boards- his exit. So he quickly stopped, reversed (rather dangerously) on his backhand, and while spinning blasted the puck straight down the ice.
Roberto Luongo certainly lived up to his vow to play better in Game 5. Right from the outset, it was apparent that he was determined to have better control of any rebounds lying around the crease area. He calmly swiped a sitting rebound that was 4 feet in front of the blue paint with the bottom side of his stick blade to the corner out of harms way.
With Salo lost to injury after the 1st period, it appeared the Canucks were going down to 4 defenders after Dustin Byfuglien sliced Shane O’Brien’s forehead open on a shot follow-through. “I was all over Burnie (trainer Mike Burnstein),” said O’Brien, who didn’t miss a shift, though bleeding profusely. “I was telling him to do it as quickly as he possibly could, and he was telling me to calm down. He put glue on it to stop the bleeding and I went back out there. That’s playoff hockey.”
Christian Ehrhoff also had his best game of the series, helping build a nice perimeter around Luongo’s crease. He forced Andrew Ladd and Jonathan Toews out of the box area, and was quick to sweep any lingering pucks to the corners and up off the glass. His goal 59 seconds into the contest was pivotal because it gave the Canucks a seldom seen lead. With Bieksa’s first of the night tacked onto that, they were able to set the tone for the rest of the game. “The five of us (defensemen) juggled it pretty well and I don’t think we got into too much trouble with long shifts,” said Bieksa. “We adjusted.”
Though the Canucks delivered on many fronts in Game 5, Shane O’Brien spoke to the teams outlook heading back to Vancouver. “We were more calm and limited their time and space,” said the feisty Irishman. “It was a good game for us, but we didn’t accomplish anything. We’re just excited to still be playing hockey, and hopefully we can force a Game 7.” If the Canucks play Game 6 with the same intensity and discipline, they just might very well find themselves back in Chicago for a Game 7.