Wednesday May 5th, 2010

Please excuse Roberto Luongo while he re-attaches his head. It got knocked around pretty good in Game 2 by gentlemen from Chicago. Rarely in the recent and more stringent NHL has a team been able to make as much contact with an opposing goalie as the Blackhawks did with the Canucks' netminder on Monday night.

After a lackluster performance in a 5-1 defeat on Saturday, Chicago made it a point to do what it had to do to upset the All-Star goalie. Adam Burish bonked him. Andrew Ladd sat on him. Even mild mannered Patrick Kane gave him a huge whomp in the noggin that could have passed for an accident. Skate by the crease, lose the puck, head back up the ice and, woops, Hey sorry about that, Roberto, didn't see you there, buddy.

Even Ben Eager, inserted into Chicago's lineup for something other than his goal-scoring skills, made a bee-line dash for the goalmouth well after Luongo had frozen the puck in order to give him a heavy-duty spray. Eager had Burish by his side for a sort-of double-barreled hosing, kind of like a two-headed hotel shower. Hey, if you can't beat him, at least get him wet.

Afterwards, Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell joked that Eager was better at "trajectorying" his snow, since Burish's spray was wide to the left and didn't quite count as a shot-on-goalie. Campbell had been dispatched by the referees after the play to tell the culprits on his bench that they got away with one and would be penalized the next time. But by then, the damage was done and the impact was felt.

The Hawks, who trailed early for the second straight game, began to rally around their sense of fight and stormed back from an 2-0 hole for a 4-2 victory. Now the Canucks have to choose how to respond when the series shifts to their house, GM Place, and to a man, they realize they need to respond more forcefully.

This is nothing new to the guys from Vancouver. Last season, the St. Louis Blues tried to do the same thing to Luongo. When the Canucks complained, Blues coach Andy Murray deadpanned that we had a Snowgate on our hands. The Canucks also offered no response on Monday when Eager and Burish started yapping at Alex Burrows from the bench while the Vancouver forward was stationed by the boards waiting for a faceoff.

"We've got to play meaner [in Game 3], a whole lot grittier," Canucks defenseman Shane O'Brien told reporters afterwards. "I was kind of upset the way we didn't respond emotionally and physically."

O'Brien was among the Canucks who were on the ice during the in-your-face spraying and simply chose to skate away, either out of discretion or pacifism. Now they have to do something, even if it means taking an extra penalty or two. The officials will also dictate some of the response. For sure, they have discussed the matter of goalie encroachment with the war room in Toronto, which has issued whatever sort of instructions the league feels is appropriate.

Indeed, if the officials had been more protective of Luongo, the winning goal might never have been scored. With the score tied, 2-2, in the third period, Hawks forward Kris Versteeg fanned on his first crack at beating Luongo from close range. He got a second chance when Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith faked a shot from the right point and slid a sharp pass over to Versteeg, who converted from the left circle for his first goal of the playoffs. At the time, Luongo was struggling to get himself back into position after extracting himself from the clamps of Ladd, who had run into him accidentally on purpose.

The Canucks have started well in two straight games, even with the pro-Hawks crowd of over 22,000 at the United Center. The first few minutes of Game 3 will be crucial. Maybe the Canucks need to see how the officials are going to handle things. If they let the Hawks forwards bang Luongo, perhaps the Canucks need to do the same to Hawks' goalie Antti Niemi, who is, after all, not nearly in Luongo's class. Or they may have to try to be more physical with Chicago's forwards, even though they are don't have as many bangers as the Blackhawks do.

Either way, as Mikael Samuelsson pointed out after Game 2, "We can't come out with that kind of effort again."

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