Coming into Game 6, there were more story lines than a Telemundo soap opera. One of the most expected was the Luongo starting Game 6 and how he would do.
Alain Vigneault fooled everyone. Luongo took all the interviews and questions, and it was Schneider that was the starter. Keeping it quiet was smart, as it kept him away from the voracious media.
It was not the only line up change. Victor Oreskovich was put in for Tanner Glass, and Andrew Alberts replaced Aaron Rome, surprising some who thought Ballard was to draw back in.
The Hawks had Seabrook back in, and sent Kruger to the pressbox so that Scott could be defensive line insurance if he struggled.
The line up juggling continued on and off through the game. With some changes, tonight was mainly Kesler centering Raymond and Burrows, with the Sedins and Samuelsson. The pairings were the same, with Alberts joining Salo on the third pairing. That would only be for a little though, as Salo was injured early, forcing the Canucks to play five defensemen the rest of the way.
That was for later. To start, the Sedins and Burrows got the ball rolling for the visitors when a wraparound by Daniel went off of Crawford’s stick and in. It was a bit of a break, and the Canucks used it to grab momentum and quiet the crowd.
It looked even better for the Canucks when Kane high sticked Bieksa, trying to avoid a check. The power play was dangerous and had 90 seconds where the Hawks never touched the puck, but they did block 4-5 shots to help kill it off.
Now, you can call this next paragraph complaining, and it is. The Canucks have been not getting the breaks the Hawks have from the officials. Bolland gets to slash sticks in two, and slewfoot Sedins with never a call. Kesler however, was somehow judged to be worth a penalty for doing the similar things the Hawks get away with. This time for a slashing penalty that helped the Hawks get some momentum going, and stole it away from the surging Canucks. They killed it off, but it was an indication of the way this night would go.
For as well as Schneider would play in this game, it was his mistake that led to the first goal. He made a bad decision to pass the puck around behind to Hamhuis, who had no chance to make a play before taking a big hit from Bolland. A bounce of the puck off a foot, and Schneider not quite set allowed Bickell to beat him on a bang bang play to tie the game.
The Canucks kept pressing though, and when Burrows stole a poor clearing attempt from Campoli in the slot and ripped it home, the crowd was once again muted as the Canucks too the lead. It was a goal in the last two minutes, and the visitors were full value for going into the break up 2-1.
The second started out a bit more cautious for both teams. The Sedins were pressuring and getting pucks to the net, and the Toews line was occasionally changed with Sharp taking Stalberg’s spot to give that line an extra spark versus the revamped Kesler line.
A big hit from Sharp on Ehrhoff forced two big chances on Schneider, but he stoned Toews and then Campbell jumping up on the rebound. Hansen saw an occasional shift with the Twins, who were playing hard. Kesler and Burrows looked like the Terror Twins of old, forcing plays all over the ice. Raymond had a good game there too.
Power plays both ways gave chances, with a Brouwer call for stupidly slashing Schnieder’s mask as the puck went out of the zone was offset by an equally questionable call, when Torres went to the net, was pushed by Leddy into his netminder, and still got the call. Raymond exacerbated that by hooking Campbell on the kill, and suddenly the Canucks were two men down for 1:42. The penalty killers stood tall, Schneider made 5-6 great saves, and the Canucks some how got out of it unscathed.
Schneider was fine in the crease. But another mistake handling the puck proved very costly. This time, he had Edler right beside him, and instead fired the puck up the boards. Kane gleefully accepted the gift, fed Bolland in the slot, and gave him the easiest open net goal at a critical time.
Hodgson almost made it worse when he cleared a puck on edge out of the ice surface. But the penalty killers were up to the task, and a helped out their rookie centre.
Somehow, the referees managed to cut the Hawks another break at the end of the second. When you get crosschecked in front of the net, I guess you must fall in a certain way, and a fully undeserved unsportsmanlike penalty to Henrik offset Campbell’s stupidity ( he did it as the period was over ). Yet another little break for the team that did not deserve it by the run of play.
The third started with a bang, with Kesler winning a faceoff, Burrows finding Raymond, and Mason using his speed to create a 2 on 1 with Bieksa. Crawford saved the first shot, but Bieksa beat Toews to the rebound, and swept it home for a 3-2 lead for the Canadian team.
But, what is given can also be taken away, and a nice breakout pass from Keith found Frolik, who got a step on Hamhuis. The defender dived for the puck, and ended up taking down the winger.
It was a fifty/fifty call on whether that was a penalty shot, but the referee made a rather overtly dramatic point to center ice, and the Hawks had a chance to answer right back.
Frolik made no mistake, and beat Schneider. Worse for the Canucks, he seemed to seriously injure his knee on the play, and suddenly the game was tied and the Canucks had to answer back with a goalie change to boot. Lu0ngo came in cold, never a good thing for goalies, creatures of habit that they are.
The breaks kept coming for the home team. Bolland stuck Daniel in the face as a play went offside, and got away unscathed. Great pressure was broken by an offside call where replays showed the puck clearly in. A clear of the puck by Leddy that looked like it went over glass before the bench on the replay was discussed and dismissed to the home team’s benefit. Sometimes you just have to be lucky I guess.
The Canucks kept coming. They were the dominant team in the third by far. Even after Alberts took a puck to the jaw on a rare Hawk foray in the offensive zone, and they had to play with only four defensemen for a while, it looked like the better team was going to get that goal. Crawford was stepping up when it mattered though, making a big save on Samuelsson, and getting help on a tip from the slot by the same guy.
Samuelsson dropped a glove as he was slashed in the offensive zone. “I did not see that” from the refs. Ehrhoff’s shot is just saved and the puck still free, but a quick whistle. The same play, Bolland two handed Henrik’s stick and broke it in two, but the referee’s again did not see it the Canuck’s way.
The Canucks were basically three lines by this point, and Lapierre was having his best game as a Canuck playing with Higgins and Hansen. They dominated whole shifts against both the Toews and Sharp lines, and it looked like Higgins would be a hero, but he hit the post from the slot.
The Hawks did not have a dangerous shift until the last minute of the third, and Kane managed a hard backhand that forced a good save.
With both teams going to O/T, the Hawks were more energized by their escape from death. Pressure both ways was met by stout defense.
However, the referees once again gave the Hawks a break. Brian Bickell went after Bieksa behind the net. Thats fine, part of the game. But in a play that looked worse than the Torres contentious check on Seabrook, he brought both arms up and drove them through Bieksa’s head.
Perhaps he should have stayed down to try and milk a call. Even without that, and even in O/T, that has to be called. It was not.
The Hawks would load up a line with Sharp, Toews and Kane, and they had some great chances. The Canucks countered with Kesler and the Twins, and they almost scored. Another break for the home team on an icing when Johnson’s line was caught out, and something the ice needed repair. ( really, at that time guys?)
Of course, you knew where this was going. Keith made a nice play to stop a clear. Hossa held of Alberts on his best play of the game. The shot from Keith was handled, but Daniel was unable to contain Ben Smith, and the rookie had the biggest goal of his life to tie the series.
I have watched a lot of hockey in my 47 years. And I know you will just read this and think its the whining of a pissed of Canuck fan.
Its not. Breaks are breaks. Burt the better team lost tonight. They play that way next game, and finally get some breaks from the boys in striped in Game 7, and it won’t be close.
Oh, and Canuck fans. Cheer for your team, and knock off the booing, OK? It might get tense, but keep the faith!