Canucks-Blackhawks: Vancouver Still Has Some Fight Left

Joel LefevreAnalyst IMay 11, 2009

The Canucks may be down 3-2 and facing elimination Monday night in Chicago—but for those who think the Canucks are dead and buried, think again. 

While the Canucks have clearly missed some opportunities to really put the Hawks in hot water, they should not be written off, despite their predicament. 

I look for a determined effort Monday, and a hard-fought game from the Canucks to force a Game Seven.  Call me crazy for still believing in the Canucks, but I think this series is still far from over.

Here is why I think the series will go the distance.  First of all, the Canucks have been dynamite on the road this playoffs, with their only blemish a two-minute lapse in Game Four that cost them a huge amount of momentum. 

That may have been a crucial mistake, but they can take solace in the fact that they have been successful in a very hostile environment in Chicago. 

Second, despite being out-shot in every game in this series, when they have gotten shots through they have often resulted in goals or great chances.  A big reason is the play of Nikolai Khabibulin—who, though he has played well, has not been very convincing, and has let in some weak goals. 

Khabibulin, despite his winning record, has a very unimpressive save percentage of .900—the worst of the remaining starting goaltenders left—and his GAA of 2.56 is not much better.  He has also had a tendency to give up several big, juicy rebounds that could have resulted in more goals for the Canucks had they been more opportunistic. 

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If they can fire more shots toward Khabibulin and pounce on the rebounds, the puck will start going in. 

Vancouver has faced so much adversity all season, and knows this is just another obstacle for them to overcome.  An encouraging sign was the play of Mats Sundin, who was flying all night Saturday, racking up a goal and an assist.  Kesler and Henrik have done their end of the bargain too, and Wellwood, Pyatt, and Bernier have been unlucky not to find the net more than they have. 

Defensively, Vancouver has shut down the Hawks' top two guns.

Patrick Kane, after scoring three goals in the first two games, has gone goalless and only has a point in the last three games. 

Jonathan Toews has been invisible on the scoresheet. He's improved and helped in the faceoff circle, but he has given the Canucks one less player to worry about offensively thus far. 

Martin Havlat may have come alive of late, but the Canucks have shown they can shut him down and frustrate him too. 

Vancouver's power play has been great, clicking at over 30 percent on the road, and they have the best penalty kill of the teams left in the postseason.  Of the teams left in the playoffs, only Detroit has a worse penalty kill than the Blackhawks.  If the Canucks can force the Hawks into taking penalties which they have done a good job of doing on the road they have more than a fighting chance. 

What has killed the Canucks on the penalty kill is not clearing the puck when given the chance. Clear the puck, and the Hawks all of a sudden look more human than ever. 

Another encouraging sign for Canuck fans is that the Canucks, when facing elimination on the road, have been very successful.  More specifically, when facing a must-win on the road in a Game Six of a series, the Canucks have been great for a long time. 

In 2004, they were able to defeat the Flames on the road in a must-win Game Six, and a year prior they did the same on the road in St. Louis.  In fact, the Canucks have not lost a Game Six on the road since 1993, when Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings upset the Canucks at the Great Western Forum. 

No doubt Vancouver will take that into account when facing the hostile crowd in the Windy City. 

Last but not least, the Canucks are a different team than in previous years.  This is a new leadership corps, and there is much more character in that locker room than there has ever been.  It may be 3-2 in the series for the Hawks—but like Willie Mitchell said, they have not beaten them four times yet.

And all due respect to Calgary, but this is a much more determined team, and will make the Hawks work a lot harder than the Flames did. 

The Canucks have not lost three straight since early April; however, one of those was a shootout loss to the Ducks.  They have not lost three straight in regulation since their record losing streak in the month of January. 

They still have fight left in them. So Canuck nation, continue to believe—Vancouver is far from finished.

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