After two days filled with talk of mental edges, having their number, backing into the playoffs meaning nothing, it was great to finally see these two rivals hit the ice. The atmosphere was fantastic, with every seat waving a towel, and in full throat.
Once the puck dropped, the Canucks showed the hitting was going to be part of the game the Hawks would have to match. The Canucks outhit the Hawks 47 to 21 in this game, and 20 to 7 in the first period. If there is any better way to establish a tone for a series, hockey coaches have not found it yet.
It worked. The Canucks came at the Hawks in waves. The visitors from Chicago had no push back initially, and if it was not for Corey Crawford, it may have gotten out of hand early.
As it was, about seven minutes in, the home team opened the scoring when Kesler outhustled Sharp along the boards. He got it back to Bieksa, who did well to get an accurate shot to the net, that was deflected by Chris Higgins for the game’s first goal. If it was even possible, the arena might have gotten even louder.
The Canucks kept coming, hemming the Hawks in. It was, however, their defensive play that got them the next one. The irrepressible Ryan Kesler blocked a shot, Samuelsson outbattled Keith for the puck, and chipped it ahead to Hansen to skate onto ( which he did, easily outpacing Hossa ), and the Great Dane beat the Hawk’s rookie goaltender with a nice deke to make it 2-0 just 10:23 in.
It could have been worse, but for the play of Crawford, and some post luck for the visitors. Samuelsson cleanly beat the goalie, only to hear the “ping”.
The only one of the Hawks that really seemed to be hitting was Brent Seabrook, who may have gotten away with a borderline dirty hit from behind on Daniel Sedin. He popped right back up though, and it seemed the referees were going to let a lot go. They could not let go an obvious interference call on Seabrook, hauling down Daniel when the puck was by, and the defenseman beaten.
The #1 power play went to work, but could not beat Crawford. The Hawks gained a bit of life from that, but were still swimming upstream quite a bit. They did come on in the last four minutes after they killed the penalty. Most of it was being taken care of by strong defensive play from all the pairs, with special mention of Salo and Edler, who made some of the biggest hits of the night.
With about a minute and a half left, Patrick Kane found Brian Campbell in way deep, and open at the side of the net. He made a nice cross ice pass, and Campbell got all of it. Luongo somehow got across to just get a toe on it, and it trickled off the post before he covered it. The best saves for a goalie are the ones where the opposing player already has his arms in the air, thinking he scored. It was a huge save that sent a message, and, more importantly, kept the score at 2-0 going into the first intermission.
The team from Chicago are the Stanley Cup champs, however. They came out much much better in the second period. They held the advantage of play for stretches of the middle frame, and enjoyed about a ten minute period of dominance where Roberto Luongo had to be the difference.
They were aided in establishing that dominance by maybe the weakest slashing penalty I have ever seen called in the playoffs, where Henrik barely touched the body, or hand, of Hossa.
Nonetheless, they killed it off well, and Burrows may have had the best chance when he and Kesler broke out shorthanded, but his shot was just low enough to tip the top of Crawford’s pad as he came across. Toews was denied by Luongo, and then Sharp just brushed it wide on the best chance for the Hawks power play.
The Canucks had some periods of push back in the middle frame, and Samuelsson once again beat the goalie but not the post. But the Cup champs were doing their best to try and get back into this game. Toews was unlucky on a tip that got through Luongo, but went off the post. Patrick Kane tried a cheeky shot off the back of the goalie that would have went in but for the goalie’s little red friend. The Hawks would actually end up this game with four posts to the Canucks’ three.
Maybe the best save of the period was one on Toews, and, with the puck in the air, a simply incredible save on Sharp as he went to bat it into the seemingly empty net. Luongo was definitely in that zone goaltenders talk of when they seemingly can’t be beat.
The third period, the Canucks had obviously talked about their defensive shape. Even though the Hawks were still pressing to try and get at least one to make the game close, the coverage was better and more confident. Even when the referees gave the Hawks another power play, this time when Bieksa and Johnson came together on what looked more like a collision than interference, smart plays and protecting the front of the net prevented any real danger. The best save on that PP may have been when Hossa cut across the front, only to be denied.
There was some breath holding late, when Daniel Sedin took a hooking penalty ( yes, it was probably a call, but with three and a half minutes left, in a game where they let far worse go? ). The Hawks power play was starting to look dangerous, but Troy Brouwer took the steam out by blatantly pushing Bieksa into Luongo. It was a call that did have to be made, and though the Hawks pulled the goalie, adn had a few half chances, Luongo was there to salt the game away.
The frustration boiled over for the visitors, and Kane petulantly slashed Hamhuis a couple times in the dying seconds. Hamhuis treated him like a rag doll, and the rest of the players got involved, but nothing came from it.
Of note in this game was the play of both callups, Cody Hodgson and Victor Oreskovich. Oreskovich hit at every opportunity, and was part of an effective fourth line that played well. He had 4 hits and played 10 minutes, while the prize rookie Hodgson had several dangerous shifts, almost scored on a nice give and go with Raymond, and finished with 3 shots, a hit and a blocked shot, and 7:38 of ice time. Well done by both of the call ups.
So? The Canucks won the first game the past two series as well. This only means something if the home team can win the next one Friday. You get the feeling the dynamics are different this time around. This time, the Canucks are the deeper team, and the more physical. They are playing the defending champs, and it won’t be easy. One thing to look for. The Hawks leaned heavily on their big stars trying to come back. The Canucks rolled four lines and all six defensive pairings fairly evenly. That could be huge down the road in a hard physical series. You have to think the Canucks will be the fresher team then.
But so far so good!