2011 NHL Playoffs: Vancouver Collapses, Chicago Blackhawks Will Win Series

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2011 NHL Playoffs: Vancouver Collapses, Chicago Blackhawks Will Win Series
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Facing elimination on Tuesday night, the Blackhawks hammered the Vancouver Canucks 7-2 in Chicago to make the series 3-1.

The Canucks and the Vancouver press were quick to downplay the loss, claiming it was simply an "off-game" for the Presidents' trophy winners, pointing to the fact that they're a "new team" as an assurance of a rebound win in game five.

I don't think a 5-0 loss on home ice was what they had in mind when they said "rebound win."

This game was monumental for both teams and will greatly affect the entire make-up of the series. A series that seemed impossible for the 'Hawks to be victorious in only five days ago is now very winnable.

And a series that seemed to be a lock for a vastly superior Vancouver Canucks team seems to be slowly slipping away from them. They were preparing for a sweep, now they're bracing for an upset.

Robert Luongo has absolutely fallen apart yet again. The Sedins, actually most of the Canucks forwards, have been no shows the past two games. The supposedly best and deepest defense in the league is playing simply atrocious.

Meanwhile at the other end, the Blackhawks are playing their best hockey of the season. Duncan Keith has been the best defenseman one the ice the past two games and is finally looking like a Norris trophy winner again.

It would be nearly impossible to tell that Corey Crawford is a rookie. He's shown tremendous poise over the past two games and has given the Blackhawks a chance to climb back into the series. How he was not nominated for the Calder trophy this season is beyond me.

Finally the 'Hawks forwards are playing spectacular. All four lines are playing with confidence, composure and executing the game plan flawlessly. They are outworking the Canucks in every possible way.

The Blackhawks simply want to win more than the Canucks, and that may determine the outcome of this series.

I said going into Thursday night's game: if the Canucks win, they win the series. If the 'Hawks win, they will win the series. And I stick to that assessment. It may be proven wrong this weekend, but in my opinion, the Blackhawks will defeat the Vancouver Canucks.

Here's why.

For one, the Blackhawks have been progressing since game one, in which they were badly outplayed. They got better in game two and even better in game three.

In Game 4, with the return of Dave Bolland, the Blackhawks surpassed the Canucks as the better team in the series. And the Canucks stepped right off. They haven't played anything resembling competitive hockey in five and a half periods.

This game was a testament to just how good the Blackhawks can be and how bad the Canucks can be. I loved Jonathan Toews quote when he said that the 'Hawks needed to "expose the Canucks for what they are... a beatable team."

And they very much are. The 'Hawks are proving that. And not only are they beatable, they are collapsable and potentially implosive.

The Canucks have been regressing since game one. They've become less physical, less composed, less focused and seemingly less skilled. As the commentators put it: "it was a game of men versus boys."

The Canucks cannot and will not win with more efforts like this. In fact, even at their best I think the 'Hawks would prove a challenge for them given how they're playing.

Second, the matchups, which were once in the Canucks favor, now favor Chicago. With the return of Bolland, the Blackhawks have one of their best two-way players back to shutdown the Sedin line, and several of the Canucks third and fourth liners have been extremely ineffective.

Coach Joel Quenneville is settling into the matchups he likes for this series and they've been flawless the past two games. The impressive play of rookies like Ben Smith, Marcus Kruger and Nick Leddy has given Quenneville several options at depth positions.

The third reason is Corey Crawford. If he continues this remarkable play in games six and seven, the Canucks will lose. Like the entire 'Hawks team, he's been getting better as the series progressed. The nerves have finally worn off and he's playing excellent.

Meanwhile, the Canucks have a terrifying goalie dilemma to sort out. Luongo has imploded once again, and they must turn to Cory Schneider for help. But as I said in my series analysis: by the time they go to Schneider, the damage may be irreparable.

Fourth, the Blackhawks are winning without Brent Seabrook, and with John Scott as his replacement. He was out there for an entire shift against the Sedins after an icing call and the Sedins generated nothing. You know you're playing bad when you can't score when John Scott is defending you.

If Seabrook returns for Games 6 and 7, and its likely he will, the Blackhawks will be boasting a confident and talented blueline that all of a sudden looks a lot better than the shaky Canucks' defense.

Finallym the Blackhawks have all the momentum in the series. The Canucks have none. Absolutely none. Anything they had from their 3-0 lead is gone. Anything positive they could have taken out of Tuesday's 7-2 beating is gone. They're a team that is lost and desperately needs saving.

They need to look inward, perhaps have another team meeting because they will lose the series if nothing is done. You can see it in their play: they're falling apart before our eyes.

Personally, I love it. The overconfidence of the Canucks was irritating and they didn't respect what the 'Hawks could do given some momentum. And now they're paying for it. I said exactly the same thing in my series analysis: respect this very different, but skilled, Blackhawks team.

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This was the most crucial game in the series, and the Canucks blew it. Now they will really pay as the 'Hawks return to the United Center, with momentum and an electric crowd on their side, to push the seemingly unwinnable series into a deciding game seven.

I said it was unwise for the Canucks to sweep Tuesday's 7-2 loss under the rug. Bad efforts like that snowball. And it clearly has. They have learned nothing from their 7-2 loss and the maturity and new mentality that was supposed to make this team prevail is nonexistent.

They can't just shake this loss off. The same thing will happen in Game 6, and then in Game 7. And all the work all season means absolutely nothing. The pressure is all on them and the 'Hawks will take advantage of this.

The Blackhawks still have their backs against the wall, technically, but are playing with championship swagger that they apparently stole from the Canucks. All the mistakes Chicago made in Games 1, 2, and 3, the Canucks are now making.

And all the good things the Canucks did in those games the 'Hawks are now doing.

The tables have completely turned and Chicago, in my opinion, has become the favorite to win despite being down two games. They have everything on their side now: momentum, excellent defense, productive forwards, great goaltending and a Game 6 on home ice to push the series even further.

I know it still seems like a long shot, but the way both teams are playing, is it unreasonable to think that the chances an upset will happen are very likely?

As I said: in my opinion, the Blackhawks will defeat the Vancouver Canucks.  

So strap yourselves in and prepare for what will be one of the biggest, most unthinkable upsets in NHL history.

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