So here it is, Game 4 and the Canucks in the exact opposite of where they found themselves last year. Yet the media being themselves feel that all the pressure should be on the Canucks. I call BS on that, the pressure is clearly on Chicago this time around. They being the anointed ones, free of criticism. Do I sound a little bitter? Probably, though it's more frustrated with the lack of consistency amongst the officials than anything. The Hawks played a hell of a game and deserved to win the other night. That being said, they were given free reign to take liberties with the Canucks and especially Roberto Luongo. The debate rages: How to fight back? Go to war and risk getting suckered into penalties against a team that has obviously prepped the officials well in this series? Or do they try and battle through it, and play their game? More after the jump...
What do I mean by prepped the officials? Well how else can you explain why they issued a warning to Luongo about embellishing calls? That was the ownership and management of the Hawks engaging in gamesmanship, you can't convince me otherwise. Is the officiating the reason they lost? Not the primary reason, but it was a factor.
This Hawks team is not invincible, they can be beaten. One thing is for sure, with the media spotlight on the crease crashing intensified, the Hawks will be getting called for it tonight. The NHL pulled a jaw-dropper yesterday by admitting the goal that saw Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Kane pitchfork Luongo into the net shouldn't have been called a goal. Would that have been a difference in the game? Likely not. But the fact that they realize they let the Hawks get away with too much could work in the Canucks' benefit.
So how are they going to tie this series up? First, they have to work harder to get preferential matchups, especially getting offensive pressure against Brent Sopel and Brian Campbell. Sopes has been shaky at best, and Campbell is playing at times as though he's still hurt, maybe some forecheck pressure and a few hard shots along the boards can test that theory. The Sedins may not be the fastest guys on the ice, but they can use their speed and skating ability to draw calls on the line of Dave Bolland, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd. It's going to take a mixture of grit, composure, determination and (swallows the bile) truculence. It's a fine line, but this team has shown they're capable of walking it.
The Canucks need to get their special teams back on track, they had the PK looking much better in the last couple games of the Los Angeles series. The power play against LA was clicking along at 25%, it needs to be much better, that's obvious. The Hawks are going to take penalties, they need to punish them every time they do.
It's time to send a message to the Hawks that this is NOT the same team they played last year. And neither are they. They don't have a goaltender with a Cup ring anymore. Let's see how he does with kind of traffic they showed us. Let's make this a best of 3. Let's put some doubt into their fans, especially those who've already purchased their tickets for the finals. Let's force their schizophrenic press corps to write some more articles talking about how bad the Hawks are as they do after every loss. This is the biggest game of the year. Play it as though it's game 7, boys.
Habs battle back, should Sharks fans be worried?
Full marks to the Montreal Canadiens last night for a gritty effort against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night at the Bell Center. They are really the story of the playoffs, Cinderella in the truest sense, and while they are a long way from winning that series still, it's as unlikely they would have split the first 4 as it was they would have taken out the Washington Capitals. There's no quit in them, and they've done a hell of a job of neutralizing the effectiveness of Sidney Crosby. The Pens have a lot more going for them obviously, but their team approach to defense, the ability to pounce on the Pens when they make mistakes and a goaltender that gives them a chance to win every night. This one is going 7 games for sure, kids.
Least surprising result so far? Last night's asskicking by the Detroit Red Wings of the San Jose Sharks, which saw Johan Franzen with a huge game, 4 goals and 2 assists. Getting 5 points from Todd Bertuzzi didn't hurt, as he has shown flashes of the kind of skill he would often tease us with here in Vancouver. The Red Wings had to win this game and anyone who thought the Sharks were going to sweep this series is kidding themselves. Now the question is, do the Sharks have the killer instinct to close this out, or will the doubts of past collapses creep back and allow the Wings back into this series?
If there's any team that could come back from a 3-0 deficit, it's the Wings. These guys have been there before, and while I still believe if they fail, ultimately it will be because of the inexperience in net, they can extend this series. I see the Wings winning tomorrow, from there... well your guess is as good as mine.
The IIHF World Championships get underway today in Germany, with the home squad taking on Team USA in front of a capacity crowd of 76,152 fans at Veltins Stadium in Gelsenkerchen. This will break the record of 74,554 spectators, set in a 2001 game between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. Team Canada starts their tournament with a match against Italy tomorrow morning at 7am against Italy on TSN. And I would like to point out hockey with breakfast frickin' rules.