Darren Eliot
Monday April 18th, 2011

Down 2-0 in the series, the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks returned home to stare down the Vancouver Canucks. The energy of the fans inside the United Center would lead to a fast start for the locals -- and that was the hope of Joel Quenneville when talking to him Sunday morning. It played out that way, too, with Duncan Keith blasting a slap shot past Roberto Luongo to send the faithful into a frenzy and give the Blackhawks their first lead of the series.

As the period wore on, the 'Hawks carried the play and bombed away indiscriminately at Luongo, aided by a handful of power-play opportunities including a 5-on-3 sequence that saw Luongo stymie the desperate champs. Those opportunities did not yield an extended lead, though, and as the period ended, the sense was rather odd. Yes, the home team led, but the lack of add-on offense on the power play quieted the house and sent the Canucks to the intermission feeling they'd weathered the Blackhawks' best. For that, they had their penalty-killing units and Luongo to thank.

Still, territorially the Blackhawks continued to be the stronger presence early on in the second period. As often is the case, though, those squandered man-up situations came to mind immediately when the Canucks knotted the game at 1-all on their first power play -- coming off a Christian Ehrhoff blueline rip. Shortly thereafter, Daniel Sedin slid a perfect pass home to amazingly lead 2-1. Call them opportunistic; call them confident, call them what you will, but the Canucks were halfway through to playing a "perfect road game".

That's when things got a little surreal. Raffi Torres -- just back after a four game suspension for his puck-optional headshot on Jordan Eberle -- delivered a puck-optional head-hit to Brent Seabrook. The penalty in the moment was a mere two minutes for interference, yet the Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp goal on a nice feed to tie the game -- as my broadcast colleague Darryl Reaugh characterized on Versus -- vindictively. Seabrook took one wobbly shift after the hit before heading to the locker room for evaluation, but did return after the break.

That's how the period would end and the third was more of the same -- power plays for the Blackhawks and excellent penalty killing by the Canucks. They used that momentum to net the game-winner by Mikael Samuelsson. Once it was 3-2 with 12 minutes remaining, the Canucks checked the fading hometown heroes into submission. Their superior depth and sense of purpose was evident and the Blackhawks -- and their fans -- went out rather silently.

Yes, the 'Hawks got the start they wanted, sort of. But the singularly focused Canucks ended with what they coveted, as well: A 3-0 series lead and a chance to sweep their tormentors from the last two playoff seasons on Tuesday night.

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