Hawks' soap opera-like Game 6 win truly a playoff battle for the ages
CHICAGO -- Wow! ... where to begin with this one. Coming into Game 6, the big news was Brent Seabrook returning to the Blackhawks lineup after missing the past two outings since Raffi Torres felled him with a vicious hit in Game 3. That soon became old news when goaltender Cory Schneider led the Vancouver Canucks onto the ice for warmups. That is the starter's position, not the backup's duty. And with that simple revelation, coach Alain Vigneault's plan to opt for the rookie Schneider over all-star Roberto Luongo became public knowledge.
That decision -- and the subterfuge surrounding it, since Vigneault named Luongo as the starter moments after Game 5 when the coach had hooked Luongo for a second straight game -- set the tone. The twists and turns were mind-numbing, proving sports remains the most compelling reality event anywhere. The Canucks came out with a renewed sense of purpose after losing badly in the last two games and seeing their cushy 3-0 series lead shrink to an uncomfortable 3-2 margin. Canucks goalie coach Rollie Melanson told me that the switch in goal was to get the team's attention, having lost momentum in the series.
Well, if that was the impetus, I'm not sure. What I do know is the Canucks forechecked ferociously and netted the first goal of the game as a result, on a wraparound by Daniel Sedin. Schneider fared well in front of his net, playing with a calm and composure commensurate with his sterling regular-season numbers. Away from the crease, though, he struggled a bit, turning the puck over twice, with both ending up in the net. Practice doesn't help a backup stay sharp with those communication/judgment moments. Both gaffes allowed the Blackhawks to tie the game, first 1-1 in the first and then 2-all in the second. It set up a tense third, which would begin 4-on-4 after Chicago's Brian Campbell and Vancouver's Henrik Sedin drew coincidental minors at the conclusion of the second.
As active as the 'Hawks defensemen are, 4-on-4 favored the home team, right? Wrong. Instead, it was Canucks blueliner Kevin Bieksa who jumped into the play and put in a rebound to give the Canucks their third lead of the night. It was again short-lived, as the referees awarded Michael Frolik a penalty shot when Dan Hamhuis took him down as he cut to the net off the right wing. Frolik finished beautifully in alone on Schneider who stretched fully but could not come up with the mid-net shot over his blocker. Then, Schneider couldn't get up. He needed assistance getting to the locker room ... and into the fray stepped Luongo.
For the balance of the third and majority of overtime, the Canucks forwards pressed and kept the puck deep in the Blackhawks' zone. The other rookie goalie named Corey -- Crawford of the Blackhawks -- got stronger as the game wore on. His rebound control was excellent, and he kept the game knotted at 3. For his part, Luongo made a couple of tough stops to begin overtime, but as the extra session progressed, he began to have pucks bang off him, with little regard for rebound efficiency. It ended up costing him and the Canucks. He fought off a floating puck through traffic, but put it back into play and lunged awkwardly forward. Luongo was in no position to recover as Ben Smith swept the puck home and became a hero in the moment.
So, after being down 3-0 in the series and never leading until the final shot in the must-win Game 6, the defending Stanley Cup champs kept coming back, forcing a Game 7. It's the most dramatic scenario in sports, set for Tuesday night in Vancouver. Still, I can't imagine more drama than this Game 6 provided. It was one for the ages.