There was absolutely no shortage of angles to take in the wake of tonight’s game, although my favourite might be the game that Alex Burrows had. From highs to lows, nobody encapsulated the emotional swings in the game the way that former ECHL’er did.
The lone goal that constituted the only scoring for much of the game came off Burrows’ stick. Partner-in-crime Ryan Kesler drove hard to the net with the puck, drawing in Duncan Keith but also the attention of rookie defenseman Nick Leddy. With Marian Hossa carefully stewarding Mason Raymond, Burrows took advantage of the time and space he had to put the puck past Corey Crawford, who was spectacular in a losing cause for Chicago.
For nearly an hour, that goal stood as the game’s lone marker. For the Canucks, it was the thin line between assured victory and the terror of a final playoff collapse, the humiliating end to an already terrifying series. It was Burrows who had a chance to strengthen the lead, after a two-on-none break turned into a penalty shot. But Burrows, perhaps hampered by a knee he had slammed off the goal post on the previous rush, came in slowly and never really threatened.
Still, for the Blackhawks, one goal was all it would take to end their postseason hopes. That lone marker was the final obstacle in a long track full of successfully completed hurdles. As the game went on, that last impediment, which seemed small at first – what’s a single goal, in a series that has been as high-scoring as this one? – loomed larger. When Duncan Keith went off the ice for a small infraction (a difficult call to justify, given the larger injustices that went unnoticed) with three minutes and change left, that obstacle turned massive.
Yet it was Burrows again who helped turn the tide. Burrows missed a pass off the boards coming out of the defensive zone, and Brent Seabrook’s quick stick moved the puck the other direction. Jonathan Toews powered into the Vancouver zone with Burrows draped on his back, and managed to draw not only Dan Hamhuis but also to pull Kevin Bieksa over; then moments later he slammed home the rebound to Marian Hossa’s shot from his knees, knotting the game at one.
In overtime, Burrows again aided the Blackhawks cause, taking a holding call on his first shift after the end of regulation. It felt like the consensus opinion in the media going into this game was that the Canucks were reeling, mentally fragile and likely to choke away a series they’d had a commanding lead in, and while many Canucks fans continued to hold an opposite view even after the Game Six loss these were nail-biting moments.
Had the Blackhawks scored on that play, the sportswriters’ columns would have written themselves. A 3-0 series lead, vanished. A one goal lead in the dying moments of the game, vanished. Just barely into overtime, the pressure got to the Canucks, and they failed yet again (never mind that the Blackhawks had to be regarded as the favourites in the last two series, that’s unimportant to the narrative).
That didn’t happen. Roberto Luongo, the focal point of criticism and pressure in this series, made a great cross-crease save. The Canucks penalty kill got the job done. All of which set up Alex Burrows to make the game’s final play.
It had an innocuous beginning, with Burrows skating in on three Blackhawks. Burrows slipped between Jonathan Toews, pulling himself off the ice on the blue-line, and ex-Canuck Ryan Johnson, who was heading the other direction in a hurry. Chris Campoli opted to flip the puck up past Burrows rather than risk a cross-ice pass to Brent Seabrook (Mason Raymond was in reasonable proximity to the passing lane). In most situations that would be a reasonable play, but Burrows leaped and knocked the puck to the ice, sending the puck on edge and spinning towards the slot.
Campoli started back at once, desperately stretching his stick out to reduce the effectiveness of the coming shot. Corey Crawford, sharp as ever, telescoped out of the crease to cut the angle down as much as possible. But in a split second, Burrows reached the puck and without a moment’s hesitation slammed it perfectly over Crawford’s shoulder and into the top corner of the net.
Burrows, demoted from the Sedin line in the previous game, was an unlikely hero and could almost as easily have ended up the goat for another playoff loss. For both good and ill, he was a factor every time the puck went into the net for either side, and in two of the most important moments in the game that didn’t end up in a goal. His seven shots led the Canucks, as did his two takeaways.
In a series between two teams each blessed with a plethora of stars, Game Seven turned out to be the showcase for a former ECHL’er with a penchant for controversy, a guy who four seasons ago scored just three goals over an entire NHL season. It was Alex Burrows’ night.