Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Chi Hawks young guns outduel Canucks and end their playoff hopes

Last Thursday night it all fell apart in the span of a couple of minutes, a chance to put the Hawks on their heels slipped by the Canucks, giving Chicago a second life and all the momentum they would need to head to the Western Conference finals.

Yes, officially the Canucks season ended on Monday night, a 7-5 shootout at the United Centre sealing their fate, but the trail leading to the Monday disappointment does go back to last week, where a conscious decision to play kitty bar the door hockey was turned on them, unleashing the Hawks to an improbable destiny for a team so young.

Yet here it is, one of the youngest teams in the NHL, no doubt many of their players still trying to learn how to work their Wii's and X Boxes has progressed to but one step away from the Stanley Cup Finals, and to get there they managed to put seven goals behind one of the top goaltenders in the game, that's seven goals in one game. It's just not the way it was all supposed to go.

As period one move along the Canucks appeared ready to force the Hawks to a return to Vancouver on Wednesday, the early part of game six riding on the shoulders of Roberto Luongo. He stymied the Hawk attack for the most part of the first period, leading the Canucks to early leads that would be over taken and then over run by the flying youngsters of the Hawks, a collection of kids who seemingly don't understand that they were supposed to be feeling all that pressure, not ready to handle a first time run in the playoffs for a number of years for Chicago.

They were a team that many realistically thought should have just been happy to be there and would step aside for the Canucks, but clearly are a team that has it's own ideas as to how their season is going to come to an end, and it doesn't include leaving in the second round of the playoffs.

Patrick Kane who had been battered and bruised throughout the series, the subject of more than a few taunts from the Canucks, took the spotlight on Monday. Marking a hat trick on the score sheet to his credit and the accolades of the euphoric United Centre ringing in his ears, he personified much of what the Hawks have accomplished in this series.

An ability to stick to coach Joel Quennville's game plan despite the setbacks and more importantly the ability to expose and take advantage of some of the glaring short comings that the Canucks offered up in these last few days of hockey.

Vancouver at times couldn't keep up with the speed of the Hawks, defensively made far too many mental mistakes and lost the scoring touch when it was needed most. Add on to that the fact that their star goaltender had his worst game of the series at the worst possible time and it was 4-2, how do you do for the Hawks.

While Lunongo will be under the microscope for this one game, in reality he probably kept them alive and on the path to Stanley far more than he was off, when the time for the rest of his team to pick up the slack and take the play to the Hawks they blinked, Chicago saw that hesitation and exploited it. As the last two periods of Monday night would show, the Canucks in the end just couldn't keep up, nor could they summon the momentum to move forward.

It's been a remarkable story in the windy city this year for hockey, almost the rebirth of a franchise, long forgotten now are those days not too long ago where the United Centre was more empty than full, more quiet than a church on a funeral day. As was shown over the last few games, the noise is back in Chi town as are their Hawks.

They now await the victor of the Red Wings/Ducks series, with one would imagine a vast majority hoping for a Red Wing/Black Hawk series to come.

The days of Makita and Hull, Howe and Sawchuk may be long gone, but if the stars align new names and faces will soon be attached to a new chapter in a storied rivalry.

Vancouver Province-- Fans blue after Canucks loss
The Globe and Mail-- The quick and the dead
Chicago Sun Times-- 'Building was crazy'

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