The Canucks looked like a team still pissed off about their series loss last year, storming the Blackhawks right off the hop, while the Blackhawks looked a bit surprised by the push and never really seemed to recover. They’ve earned at least a split in Chicago, which is huge for a team like the Canucks that is so much better at home than on the road.
The Canucks looked like the better team in game 1, no doubt, but if the teams switched goalies the score would have been much different. Roberto Luongo looked real good, while his counterpart Antti Niemi looked absolutely terrible. Niemi made some big saves early, but looked shaky while doing so. His pads were like trampolines, bouncing pucks into the middle of the ice for Canucks to pounce on. Meanwhile, Luongo looked like the Luongo of old. The only goal beating him being scored on a 5-on-3. He was square to the shooter, letting out very few rebounds and even making a couple of acrobatic stops. Cristobal Huet replaced Niemi in the third period which begs the question: who starts game 2? Well, evidently the Hawks have completely lost faith in Huet, because it will be Niemi playing again in game 2 according to Joel Quenneville.
Full Team Effort
The Canucks are 3-1 in this year’s playoffs playing in arenas with smoking hot ice girls (the Kings ice girls for your reference). Ok, seriously though, Saturday night’s game was a complete team effort. All four lines scored a goal, and all six defensemen looked very strong. Two of the guys most in my doghouse, Kevin Bieksa and Andrew Alberts, I have to admit looked steady.
I thought that the Blackhawks were pretty good at finishing their checks on the Canucks d-men (which should scare the crap out of all Canucks fans, they can ill afford an injury to one of their top defensemen). The Canucks meanwhile, did much the same and their hustle was nice to see. Vancouver consistently won loose puck battles, including Mason Raymond outworking Brent Sopel to gain possession and set-up Christian Ehrhoff on the first goal.
You know what I mean by “cheapness factor”, those dirty little cheap plays that are so huge in the playoffs but aren’t serious enough to warrant a penalty, but throw the other team off their game. Examples of these are face washes, spraying snow on/falling down on/bumping the opposing team’s goalie, and taking cheap shots on the other team when the game is out of hand. Chicago was great at this last year, but they were unable to do much of it in game 1. With all the talk of Dustin Byfuglien before this series, he was a non-factor, as were most of the Hawks getting into Luongo’s kitchen. It was Henrik Sedin, I repeat, Henrik Sedin spraying Antti Niemi instead. Every time a Blackhawk got near Luongo, he was quickly ushered away by the Canucks defensemen. Once the game was out of reach, I expected a few cheap shots by the Hawks or at least challenging someone to a fight. The Blackhawks did very little to respond in front of their home crowd and went very quietly.
As good as the Canucks looked and as bad as the Blackhawks looked, game 2 will probably look a lot different. Chicago got its wake-up call and will respond with a much better effort. If Luongo continues to outplay Niemi as bad as game 1, it probably won’t matter. Look for a more determined Blackhawk team with some mixed-up lines and the insertion of one or both of Adam Burish and Ben Eager. I expect the Canucks to go with the same lineup, with the only potential lineup change being Ryan Johnson in for Rick Rypien.