The initial shot may have been tipped, and the resulting save left Roberto Luongo dead to rights on the rebound attempt at the mercy of Ben Smith, and the 22-year old rookie did not disappoint.
Yes, Ben Smith, who played as many NHL regular season games with the Blackhawks as he had in this series, ended a thriller at the Madhouse on Madison with an overtime goal to lift the Chicago Blackhawks into an improbable Game Seven.
It will go down as a 4-3 Game Six victory for the Blackhawks, but the affair was a wild one and much more than that.
Cory Schneider came out for Vancouver as the surprise starting goaltender, despite Alain Vigneault confirming after the last game that Luongo would definitely start. He didn’t finish, but that comes later on. Daniel Sedin opened the scoring on a bank shot off of Chicago netminder Corey Crawford, who was otherwise spectacular, stopping 32 of 35 shots. The teams traded goals after that. Bryan Bickell scored off a funny bounce behind the Vancouver net before Alex Burrows capitalized on a Chicago giveaway late in the first.
In the second, after Vancouver killed a lengthy five-on-three, Schneider gave the puck away to Patrick Kane, who found Dave Bolland in the slot facing an empty net. He did not fail to convert. Vancouver took the lead again early in the third with a Kevin Bieksa goal, before Bieksa hauled down Michael Frolik on a breakaway, resulting in a penalty shot.
There are few instances where a penalty shot is a more favorable circumstance than a powerplay, but it is not like Chicago coach Joel Quenneville had a choice. Frolik made a sweet backhand-forehand deke which beat Schneider, and also left him hurt as he cramped up moving to his right.
Not often in the playoffs will you find a Vezina Trophy candidate on the bench, but in the wake of Schneider’s injury, Vigneault went to Luongo. It took just under eight minutes for Luongo to face his first test, a weak wrist shot off the stick of Frolik, but he turned it aside. The teams exchanged chances and the referees put away their whistles as the game moved into overtime.
From there, Vancouver got the better of the chances early, but it was sustained pressure from Chicago that had Vancouver’s first line on their heels three quarters through the frame. Niklas Hjalmarsson ripped a shot from the point that was tipped, fooled Luongo and he couldn’t make an awkward recovery save off of Smith’s backhander from the knees.
The Canucks certainly stepped their level of intensity up from Games 4 and 5, which saw them somewhere in the realm of a poriferous mute, but they’ve had an issue adding to their leads. The Canucks have not have a two-goal lead since Game 2. In addition, while they played well enough to win Game 6, questions are abound about their goaltending. Cory Schneider made two glaring mistakes which led to goals and made 17 saves off of 20 shots, but Roberto Luongo looked shaky in his last two starts. Should Schneider be healthy enough to start, who gets the call?
On the Blackhawks side, their only problem is that their opposition seems to have got it together. They were outclassed in all zones Sunday night, and though they were outshot just 35-33, they gave up 85 shot attempts to 54 and were lucky enough to see a lot of pucks hit off the shin pads of their defensemen. They had 31 blocked shots in this game, and all it would have taken was for one more of those to have got through for the Blackhawks to have been gone for good from this year’s playoffs.
Game Seven is on Tuesday. As a wise man once asked, who ya got?