Break free, Sedins. Break free from the shackles that bind you!
The Vancouver Canucks return home for Game 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at GM Place. Although the Canucks leave Chicago with a well-earned series split, they and their fans likely feel that they let the last game slip away from them. Tonight they will aim to rectify that and retake the series lead.
The Canucks were leading the Blackhawks going into the 3rd period in Game 2. This season, the Canucks were 32-1 when leading after 2 periods and had the second best winning percentage in the entire NHL. A set of awful power plays, capped off by a short-handed goal by Patrick Sharp, allowed the Blackhawks to tie the game and take full control of any and all momentum of the rest of the game. That culminated with a game winning goal by Kris Versteeg with only 90 seconds left in the game. And all that, coupled with the fact that the Canucks were leading 2-0 within the first 5 minutes of the game, left a bitter taste in the mouths of Canucks fans and players alike.
But let’s remember that the Canucks dominated Game 1 for the final 50 minutes. After weathering an early storm from the Blackhawks, the Canucks turned the tables and rolled to a very convincing victory.
Frankly Game 2 was quite the opposite. So let’s look at it this way:
The Canucks dominated Game 1 and won handily. The Blackhawks dominated Game 2 and only won in the last 90 seconds. Yes, this is very much a "glass-half-full" look at the first two games, but when you break it down, there is quite a bit that is encouraging about the Canucks play to start this series.
First and foremost, the play of Roberto Luongo has been stellar so far. Steady, controlled, dominant. If not for some major gaffes in Game 2 by his defense, he would have won both games.
Second, Mason Raymond. He has been much more noticeable in this series than he was in the entire first round series against LA.
The rest of the forward crew is steady as she goes, and that includes the Sedins. The Sedins do need to improve, but look for them to get a lot more space in Games 3 and 4, as the Canucks have home-ice advantage and last change, so they should be able to match the Sedins against other Blackhawks defensive pairings.
But what about the empty half of the glass?
Let’s start with the defense, which was embarrassing in Game 2. They looked panicked and lost, chased the Blackhawks for two full periods and were repeatedly bailed out by their goalie-captain. Specifically, Kevin Bieksa and Christian Ehrhoff was brutally bad. Ehrhoff was on for three of the four goals against, and caused the shorthanded goal against with a bad decision on a blue line pinch. Ehrhoff is a poor transition skater (turning from backward to forward). Knowing this, he should ONLY pinch when he can be absolutely guaranteed that he can keep the puck in. Otherwise, he needs to retreat and cover the point. Bieksa just made some ghastly decisions with the puck, poor passing, turnovers and skating away from plays.
The power play was also completely ineffective, especially when the Canucks had three separate chances in the third period to lock up the game. Instead, they barely took any shots. If they did, many of them were telegraphed and blocked. Then they gave up a back-breaking shorthanded goal that ultimately handed the game over to the Blackhawks.
So again, how do you look positively at this? Well, the Canucks defense was abysmal and their power play was awful, and the Canucks STILL only lost the game in the last 90 seconds. If the Canucks can improve their power play slightly, and their defense wakes up and plays as well as it has all season, they win Game 2. With home-ice advantage and line changes for tonight’s game, they should be able to get the Sedins some space, and get the engines firing again.
It’s an important game for the Canucks to see how well they stem the tide from letting a win slip away from them. If they rebound quickly, keep the pressure on Niemi for a full 60 minutes, there is no reason to think they won’t return to the form that won them Game 1 handily. If they cower to the Blackhawks, and the defense can’t keep up to the speedy Blackhawks forwards, this might be a long night.
I vote for a return to Game 1 form.