Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Blackhawks eliminate Canucks yet again
This year, the Canucks should have been up 2-0, but failed to protect a lead and then failed to maintain their composure for games three and four at home and wound up down 3-1 against a solid Blackhawk squad. At the point, many Canucks fans had their hopes dashed as the proverbial writing was on the wall.
Game six unfolded with Roberto Luongo making some incredible saves to keep his team in the game – they simply came out flat – again. Both teams remained scoreless after one, but in the second period the Hawks erupted for three goals and they simply dominated the Canucks. While the goals came on turnovers (and ugly ones at that), the Canucks were outshot 10-2 at one point, and lost 13 of 15 faceoffs in the middle frame. It’s hard to imagine a team playing for it’s life would be that badly outplayed, but that is what happened.
The third period finally saw the Canucks showing some signs of life, including a crossbar by Kevin Bieksa and a goal by Shane O’Brien shortly thereafter, but when the Canucks needed Roberto Luongo to keep them in the game, he simply disappeared. Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien scored less than 30 seconds apart to turn a 3-1 game with Vancouver momentum into a 5-1 blowout with no emotion for the remaining 10 minutes in the third period.
Game 6 really was a story of the Canucks series against Chicago, a depleted back end, costly turnovers, inconsistent goaltending, and a lack of scoring up front. Despite saying before the series that they wanted the Chicago Blackhawks, the Canucks clearly were not prepared for them properly. A complete lack of discipline, and inconsistent or sub-par performances from their top players really sealed their fate. There is lots of blame to go around in this series.
Up front, the Sedin twins played well, but not up to their regular output this season and were outplayed by the Blackhawks top line. They are not alone. We have seen Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby have their share of struggles also. Aside from the Sedins, Alexandre Burrows and Ryan Kesler mustered only one non-empty net goal between them over 12 games, and Pavol Demitra was atrocious. Mikael Samuelsson also battled through injury and did not produce as hoped after a tremendous series versus Los Angeles.
Rumour has it Kesler was also fairly injured and therefore was less effective. With numerous forwards and defense being beat up, a good question would be – are the Canucks victims of bad luck, or simply not durable enough as a team?
Any questions about the team’s heart and commitment to winning should be answered by Ryan Johnson and Sami Salo. Johnson played part of the year with essentially two broken feet, and then of course there was Sami Salo’s courageous effort just to play in Game 6, where he logged 20 minutes of ice time despite suffering an apparent ruptured testicle in Game 5 in Chicago.
On Defense, Christian Ehrhoff was solid despite his poor plus-minus rating, and Alex Edler also had a tremendous palyoff. Kevin Bieksa had a great Game 5, but was far too inconsistent with a fair number of giveaways, including a back breaker to Kris Versteeg in Game 6. Sami Salo was solid and reliable and Shane O’Brien played a more prominent role than many could have imagined. He took a few bad penalties but was fairly reliable on the ice, showing more poise than last year. Beyond that, Andrew Alberts was a subtraction by addition it seemed. That’s right – subtraction by addition. Rather than help the Canucks wounded defense, his boneheaded penalties in the first series nearly cost the Canucks, and his lack of poise and sound defensive play almost guaranteed that he will not be back next season in a Vancouver jersey.
Lastly, in goal of course we have Roberto Luongo. Luongo was very inconsistent. To say he was horrible would likely be unfair, as he made many crucial saves in round one against Los Angeles that allowed the Canucks to advance. In fact, there were huge saves in Game One, Four and Five which all helped the Canucks keep it close and come back to win. Against the Blackhawks however, Luongo was a distraction. His inability to handle Dustin Byfuglien’s screens and subtle interference became a distraction to the team which created defensive miscues and an abundance of penalties.
Luongo failed to make timely saves in the second round, leading to a handful of losses, specifically on home ice. More importantly, Luongo’s leadership did not steady to Canucks ship in turbulent waters, he allowed the team to become unraveled on home ice in every game, and seldom – if ever – was able to stem the tide.
Long story short, the Blackhawks were the better team. They played a smarter game and they kept true to their words. They made faster adjustments and rebounded after bad games. Their depth was apparent, as was their team toughness and that simply was too much for the Canucks to handle.