As the few loyal fans exited the arena, the in-house DJ played The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, a tune symbolic of the Vancouver Canucks’ bittersweet playoff fortunes. By day’s beginning, the team had a chance to close out the series on home ice, and by night’s end, they find themselves with the ugliest 3-2 series advantage in recent NHL memory, having surrendered all but one of the last twelve goals scored.
To Chicago’s credit, although they hardly had to break a sweat in 7-2 and 5-0 victories in Game 4 and 5, have gotten tremendous production from their powerplay and second line. Duncan Keith has caught fire, with three goals and five points to show in the last two. Marian Hossa has finally got on the scoreboard, with a pair in Game 5 to match Keith’s and a number of scoring chances. One has to think that, should the first line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp get hot, Chicago will not be a cinch just to close out the series
Vancouver, on the wrong end of a two-to-three series deficit, has seen back-to-back Art Ross Trophy winners Henrik and Daniel Sedin disappear, coinciding with the return of Chicago’s top defensive centerman Dave Bolland. Roberto Luongo, who was part of a goaltending duo that allowed the fewest goals in the league over the regular season, has been sloppy and stale, contrasting with the not-perfect but under-reported play of rookie Corey Crawford, who earned a shutout in Game 5 and skates into Game 6 with a .924 save percentage.
As Chicago’s veteran hands in the series remain steady and unflinching, it is unfair to say that they are in the heads of the Canucks, but the Canucks are definitely playing mind games of their own, caught up in a series against a foe who have beaten them two years in a row and are the defending Stanley Cup Champions. A telling moment in Game 5 came when, up 5-0, Jonathan Toews got open in front and fanned on a prime scoring chance. Even when the outcome was certain, the competitive force of Toews showcased Chicago’s killer instinct: he slammed his stick against the glass, angry that he let a chance slip away.
Chicago look to pile on 5-goal leads, while Vancouver, the better team, has let a rival slip back into a playoff series. They are not out of it, far from being out of it, but we have a competitive series again.