For the first time in the Canucks-Blackhawks Trilogy, we will have a game 7. And it will happen in the most improbable way. As you must know by now, the Canucks have squandered a 3-0 series lead and now face elimination on Tuesday night.
I’ve got to admit that when I heard the news this morning that Manny Malhotra would be lost for the regular season and playoffs due to his eye injury, I began a mini-panic. Weird that a season ending injury to a 30-35 point scorer could cause such angst, but anybody that has followed this team closely knows that he’s more than that.
The Vancouver Canucks will play tonight’s game in Nashville without Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Andrew Alberts and, as we found out this morning, Kevin Bieksa. That’s 5 of their top 7 defencemen out of the lineup. To make matters worse, minor leaguer Lee Sweatt broke his foot in practice. Even the Manitoba Moose have injury troubles on the blueline, with Nolan Baumgartner suffering an injury last week. He might have been one of the recent call-ups.
Sami Salo is back, well, almost. He’s been skating for a long time now, and has been practicing and traveling with the team for a couple of weeks also. So when is he set to return? The Canucks are keeping this somewhat secretive, but it looks to be soon. The reason is of course the salary cap. The Canucks are very close to the cap right now and will be over it when Salo returns. According to CapGeek, the Canucks would need to get rid of $1.8 million of annual salary if Salo returned today.
Reports out of Finland are saying that Sami Salo has injured his achilles tendon in a game of floor hockey and could be gone 3-5 months. The report has not been confirmed as of yet. Assuming the report is true, this could be a very difficult injury for Salo, now 35, to recover from. Not only is he 35, but he has a lot of mileage on his body. One side effect of Salo being injured may be Kevin Bieksa. The longer Salo is out, the more valuable Kevin Bieksa becomes. A long term injury also provides salary cap relief, just as Pavol Demitra’s long term injury did last season.
The better team won. Face it. I have heard lots of whispers from the Canucks players and from fans that somehow the Hawks aren’t the better team, which boggles my mind. They were the better team during the last two regular seasons, they were the better team the last two playoffs. Sure there were some mitigating factors. Willie Mitchell’s injury sure hurt. Playing game 6 with a less than 100% Sami Salo and losing Alex Edler made things difficult. Lots of the Canucks forwards were banged up. Injuries ARE excuses, legitimate excuses. Injuries don’t mean you automatically lose, but they make things more difficult. These injuries meant that the Canucks had to be extra good, seeing as how they were underdogs to begin with. In the next few days I’ll take a retrospective look back at the Canucks season that was, but for now, lets concentrate on what happened in the deciding game, game 6 versus Chicago.
After an impressive 4-1 win, the Canucks will live to play another game. So just how did this team, that looked so beleaguered on home ice in game 3 and 4, manage to extend the series? Remarkably, the keys to victory have become astonishingly clear (to this blogger at least).
How bad are the Canucks injury woes? Well, they’ve brought back a Tampa Bay Lightning cast-off! Yeeesh. Actually, I don’t mind this signing. Matt Pettinger was re-signed by Mike Gillis yesterday. With all their injuries at the moment, bringing a veteran NHL forward who can skate and kill penalties probably isn’t a bad idea.
Roberto Luongo, yet again, is injured. He’ll be out at least a week with a rib injury. Whether or not it’s only a week remains to be seen, as Canucks management has been known to downplay injuries in the past.
The Canucks silenced the boisterous United Centre crowd with a gritty 3-2 third period comeback victory on Wednesday. The win was big, not only because it was their first road win of the season and against a hated team, but because of how they won.