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Struggling Canucks face elimination


The Canucks find themselves in an unwelcome situation against the Blackhawks, down 3-1 heading into Sunday's Game 5 tilt in Chicago. After welcoming this matchup as a way to atone for last season's ouster at the hands of these very same Blackhawks, the Canucks have lost their way. The Blackhawks have reeled off three consecutive wins after the Canucks opened the series with a convincing 5-2 triumph.

Turns out, it was fools gold. They've undermined their own effort with undisciplined penalties leading to a Dustin Byfuglien hat trick in Game 3 and another by captain Jonathan Toews -- part of a five-point outing -- in Game 4. Their power play has gone cold with just one 5-on-4 tally in 13 opportunities, which has led to the offensive woes of stars Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Worst of all, goaltender Roberto Luongo is struggling with the crease-crashing tactic of the Blackhawks, spitting out rebounds and playing with an unsettledness that has permeated the team. If he comes up with a command performance, the Canucks should reestablish their game and force a Game 6. If Luongo continues to perform in the same uneasy fashion, the Blackhawks will punch their ticket for the Western Conference final for the second season in a row at the expense of the Canucks.

In the Eastern Conference, Game 6 of the Penguins-Canadiens series shifts back to Montreal. One element not likely to change is the style of play. It has become increasingly evident that the Canadiens have succeeded in making this a series of tight-checking, low-scoring affairs. From that standpoint, they've accomplished a lot against the Penguins.

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Game 5 proved, however, that the Penguins' could play that way too -- just as they did in winning Game 3 in Montreal by a 2-0 count. Goaltender Marc Andre Fleury returned to form after letting in a couple of soft goals in Game 4. He was thirty seconds shy of his second shutout of the series and ran his career record to 15-5 after losses in playoff competition, including 6-0 in his last such games -- yielding just eight goals over that span.

In front of Fleury, the Penguins forechecked harder, with the forwards punishing the Habs defenders with bodychecks at every turn. To counter the Canadiens' effective man-on-man defense, the forwards used the point men to spread the defenders out. That low-to-high puck movement, coupled with staunch screeners in front of goaltender Jaroslav Halak, led to both goals for the Pens coming from defensemen -- Kris Letang on a first period power play and Sergei Gonchar at even strength in the second.

Evgeni Malkin had more dominant shifts than anyone in Game 5, controlling the puck on zone entries seemingly at will. The Canadiens did, however, continue to clamp down on Sidney Crosby, as The Kid failed to score a goal for the sixth successive game -- the longest drought of his playoff career. Much of the credit for shutting down Crosby goes to the defensive work of Josh Gorges and Hal Gill. In tandem, they've denied Crosby access to the back of the net where he likes to set up and make plays moving to the front.

Gill left the game in the third period after Chris Kunitz inadvertently stepped on the back of Gill's left leg. He did not return, apparently cut on the play and if he were unavailable for Game 6, the Canadiens would sorely miss his presence. The Canadiens are already missing regular blueliners Andrei Markov, Jaroslav Spacek and Paul Mara. Still, going home, the Canadiens have a good chance of forcing a Game 7, especially if they can score first and play from in front instead of having to chase the game.