NHL Playoffs 2011: Five Reasons the Chicago Blackhawks Take Game 7 in Vancouver
The playoffs tend to bring out the best in players, separating those who deserve to be called champions and those who aren't quite ready to hold that title. Champions never show signs of giving up regardless of the given circumstances, and this very fact was on display in Chicago on Sunday night. The last time the Blackhawks were in their home area, the United Center, they saw themselves down three games to zero. This three game hole wasn't just your ordinary three game hole, it was against the best team in the NHL and the Western Conference's top overall seed, the Vancouver Canucks. The Blackhawks came out hungry and put up seven goals in game four, sparked by the return of "the Rat" Dave Bolland. Chicago seemed to be playing with more emotion as well, reacting from the absence of blue-liner Brent Seabrook at the hands of Vancouver's Raffi Torres. All this put aside, Chicago still had a lot of work to do.
And that work has almost been completed, as Chicago and Vancouver find themselves playing for the right to advance in the NHL playoffs in a do-or-die game seven in Vancouver. Chicago went on to win game five in Vancouver by a score of 5-0 and game six in Chicago by the score of 4-3 in overtime. Chicago looks to continue its current hot streak into the Rogers Center and shock the hockey world.
It wasn't too long ago we saw this happen before. Just last playoff season saw the Philadelphia Flyers climb out of a 3-0 deficit to the Boston Bruins to take that series in seven en route to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Flyers magical run was ended by the Chicago Blackhawks in six games, but it may be Chicago's turn in this season's playoffs to stun a favored foe.
Here are five reasons why the Chicago Blackhawks will continue their win streak and beat Vancouver on Tuesday night.
Dave Bolland's Play Against the Sedin Twins
This one is simple. Since the insurgence of second line center Dave Bolland back into the lineup, the top line of Vancouver, consisting of the Sedin twins, has been shut down. Dave Bolland is known to have a knack for the puck and has the ability to frustrate some of the game's best (i.e. Joe Thornton).
Let's take a look at what the stats have to say. In games one through three, the Sedin Twins combined to score three goals, dish out five assists and have a plus-minus rating of plus-seven. Since the addition of Bolland to the lineup, the Sedin twins have subsequently scored two goals, captured only one assist and combine to have a plus-minus rating of minus-13. Astonishing results from an addition via injury.
Meanwhile, in games four through six, Dave Bolland himself has scored two goals, handed out four assists and has a plus-minus rating of plus-six.
Dave Bolland has been the definition of an instant impact for Chicago.
Confident Corey Crawford
When the pressure has been at its greatest, Corey Crawford has shined. The Chicago net-minder seemed to exert more and more confidence as game six progressed into overtime. Even though Vancouver controlled the puck for the better part of the extra frame, Crawford's poise and patience led him to great position on saves and minimal rebound opportunities.
During the last three games, Crawford and the Blackhawks have consecutively avoided elimination. These wins now force a game seven, with the obvious advantage in net going to the Blackhawks.
In the past three games, Corey Crawford has stopped 89 of 94 shots faced, including a game five shutout in Vancouver. More importantly, Crawford was stellar for most of the third period and in overtime for the Blackhawks to win game six.
The goaltending situation in Vancouver isn't quite as concrete. After being pulled in games four and five, Roberto Luongo found himself sitting on the bench for most of game six until Michal Frolik pulled a quick one on Vancouver goalie Corey Schneider, who then pulled his groin while failing to stop the game tying goal in the third period.
Luongo came into the game and looked as if the situation was getting the best of him. Luongo did make a few stops, but his technique looked shaky and his confidence was lacking. After a good fore-check by Marian Hossa, Luongo flailed to block a shot, leaving a rebound on the doorstep for Chicago forward Ben Smith to put in the back of the net.
Hit on Seabrook Awakens Defense
Maybe it was a good thing Raffi Torres didn't get suspended for his violent hit on Brent Seabrook, causing the Chicago defenseman to miss games four and five. The Blackhawks have seemed to be on a roll since the hit, and with Seabrook back in action, Chicago may be looking for its very own knock-out blow.
The Chicago defense has stepped its game up since digging themselves a sizable hole to start the series. Duncan Keith, in particular, has been magnificent. Keith has been playing great defense, putting the puck in net and setting up his teammates for goals. Brian Campbell has played more aggressive, and his stick skills on the fore-check have helped him and gritty defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson really click as a defensive pair. The addition of Chris Campoli from Ottawa at the trade deadline has brought back some of the shot blocking Chicago has missed since the departures of Brent Sopel and Kris Versteeg in the offseason. The unit as a whole has been a driving force in Chicago's potential comeback.
For Chicago, they generate their offense via their defense, and with Seabrook back in the lineup, Chicago should really be firing on all cylinders. Look for the power-play to be potent and a possible game-changer in game seven.
Vancouver Has Seen This Before
It's like a reoccurring nightmare for the Vancouver Canucks. Whenever it seems as though they have the right pieces and have had the right amount of momentum to take them deep into the playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks show up and send them packing.
If the Blackhawks complete the comeback bid on Tuesday night, it will be the third consecutive year that Chicago eliminates Vancouver from the playoffs. This thought will undoubtedly be creeping into the minds of Vancouver players and fans throughout game seven. Just when you think you have your opponent down, three consecutive defeats and a game seven is on your hands.
The mental state of Vancouver cannot be anymore stunned as it is right now. Not only do they have to win game seven to advance, they allowed their bitter playoff rivals to rise from the dead and capture all the momentum of the series. Chicago knows how to eliminate Vancouver, and I'm sure this is known by the men in blue sweaters. Chicago knows how to put the puck past Roberto Luongo, and I'm sure Luongo is well aware of this fact.
The tension in the building will be so thick, it could be sliced with a butter knife. If Chicago strikes first, the air in the building will disappear and Vancouver will be left gasping.
Because I Told You So!
After the game three defeat, I wrote a story on how the Blackhawks can still shock the world. It was mostly optimism, with a hint of wishful thinking. But one thing is for certain, and that is you can never count out a proven champion. The Blackhawks may have looked down in the dumps and headed for the exit, but they've done this before.
I focused on the addition of Dave Bolland, quick shooting and scoring, and defensive improvement to get the Blackhawks in the position they currently find themselves. They have executed in a way that makes you proud to be a Chicago Blackhawks fan, and thankful we have yet another shot to oust the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks.
To take a look at my story that followed game three, follow the link.