Blackhawks play like champions to stave off sweep against Canucks
CHICAGO -- So, the defending Stanley Cup champs have some fight left in them after all.
The Blackhawks blitzed the Canucks 7-2 in a game that featured the return of center Dave Bolland, playing for the first time since a March 9 concussion. Bolland and linemates Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik shut down the trio of the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows. If that wasn't enough, all three scored a goal, and Bolland notched a nifty four-point night.
It started with the Blackhawks establishing the forecheck, led by Troy Brouwer's big body bashing. At the other end, defenseman Brian Campbell took control by skating the puck more assertively, something coach Joel Quenneville told me in the morning that he wanted out of his rearguards. That strategy backed off the Canucks D, giving the forwards an extra step on the aforementioned forecheck. The Canucks' defensemen struggled from the outset and never got better. If not for a stellar first period by goaltender Roberto Luongo, the Blackhawks could have had a substantial lead.
Instead, the teams took the ice for the second tied 1-1. It didn't matter. The Blackhawks continued to pound and push the pace, eventually breaking the game wide open with four markers. As impressive as the 'Hawks' fever-pitch determination was, the lack of push back by the Canucks was just as striking. They rarely threatened Blackhawks rookie netminder Corey Crawford, and the few times they did, he came up with the clutch save. But this one was about the game up-ice, not in the Blackhawks zone.
The third period deteriorated quickly to a special teams affair, and when Patrick Sharp scored his second goal on a 4-on-3 power play on a beautiful feed from Marian Hossa, Luongo's night was over. Despite giving up six tallies, Luongo might have been the Canucks' best player. Which, upon reflection, is more of an indictment of the Canucks' total collapse than any Luongo heroics. On this night, the heroes were all from the home team. They played with the pride of champions, challenged the challengers and -- at least on this night -- reminded everyone that they aren't going to merely forfeit the crown.
No, the Blackhawks will force the Canucks to go home, regroup and see if the would-be favorite this year has indeed grown beyond the last two years when the Blackhawks eliminated the Canucks. After not showing up for Game 4, the Canucks certainly don't want to see a Game 6. That means Game 5 at home is the moment of truth for the Canucks. It is what they've been building toward for several seasons.
One night can't change all that ... can it?