Darren Eliot
Wednesday May 12th, 2010

Game 6 of this Western semifinal was a contrast in conviction. From the outset, the Chicago Blackhawks played as if they knew they could win. Conversely, the Vancouver Canucks started the game tentatively -- with a whiff of losing as a possibility.

The Canucks pushed the pace early on, but nothing came of it. Goaltender and captain Roberto Luongo battled valiantly in the early stages, and his counterpart Antti Niemi made several stops himself to keep the game scoreless after one period of play. Still, the difference was in the defensive assuredness exhibited by the Blackhawks. They defended diligently in the dangerous scoring areas, while the Canucks looked helter-skelter by comparison.

The complexion of the game changed in the second period, as the Blackhawks gashed the Canucks for two early goals, one by Troy Brouwer -- a late addition to the lineup by coach Joel Quenneville -- and a shorthanded tally by David Bolland. Chicago's confidence now had credence. Before the siren ended the second, the lead would be 3-0; an already reeling Canucks blueline looked rattled, as Alex Edler -- arguably their best rearguard -- didn't return after a colossal collision with Dustin Byfuglien. Only the inevitable remained.

The Canucks did score first in the third, but it was of little consequence, as the Blackhawks counted twice more for a 5-1 final. Byfuglien and Patrick Kane did the honors, making a beleaguered Luongo look as awkward and irrelevant as the rest of his team. For the third game in the series, the Blackhawks had come into Vancouver and vanquished the home team. Gone was the verve displayed in Game 5 by the Canucks, and with it, the chance to force a Game 7. Instead, the Blackhawks move into the Western finals for a second consecutive spring.

This sets up a new dynamic out west, as the Blackhawks take on the Sharks this weekend. The Sharks, who ousted perennial favorite Detroit in five games, have been frustratingly vying for this series for years; and now they have it. Only time will tell if this is the Sharks' year to put it all together. One thing is for sure: This WCF matchup promises to be electric. Both teams boast tons of talent, flair and pace to their respective games. They are both deep up front and stout on the back end. This matchup is absolutely the best the Western Conference has to offer.

Byfuglien was the wild-card factor in the Canucks series and might be again against the Sharks. He has a unique blend of size and skill with a galling flair to his game. Can the Sharks defend him at the top of the crease and on the forecheck? That is the question heading into the series. Sure, the Sharks have loads of talent up front with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Joe Pavelski. But the 'Hawks can match that firepower with Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. So, the open ice is a wash.

Who handles the trenches will decide this series, and the Blackhawks are up one Byfuglien to none.

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