After a shaky start, Chicago rouses to take Game 2
Five minutes into Game 2, Chicago Blackhawks fans were already gnashing their teeth and cursing the hockey gods that their beloved team could be already be blowing it. The Vancouver Canucks had already scored twice (Mason Raymond, Mikeal Samuelsson) in the first five minutes, with hard scrambles at the net, and with the way the Blackhawks were playing, it was like watching a JV team trying to keep up with the '80 Russian Olympic team.
The United Center crowd was displeased, too - booing the home team after the second goal was stuck in the net, and the Canucks led, 0-2.
But it was the second goal seemed to be the kick in the pants that the team clearly needed.
Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi and the defense tightened up and managed to hold together the goal while the rest of the team settled down and got their legs back beneath them. It was like he found his glove hand for the rest of the game, and he was snatching glove saves and locking down pucks, cutting down the number of rebounds.
Suddenly, there was Brent Seabrook, just over seven minutes into the first, flying down the ice, and bam, the score was 1-2 Canucks, and a fire was clearly lit under the Hawks collective butts, as they pushed back, sealing the first period at 1-2.
The second period was scoreless as the teams pushed back at one another, with a few good opportunities for the Hawks, and Niemi and the defense team shutting down the other end. The fans at the UC were alive and making some serious noise all period, and ready to rock the house as the third period began.
The third period started to show touches of sloppy play again, and definitely some turnovers that should not have happened. But Patrick Sharp managed to take a 2-on-1 during a Canucks power play, and run away with it, charging down the ice to Roberto Luongo and making a short-handed goal to tie up the game, 2-2, 6:49 into the third.
Now there was a GAME!
Both teams were fast and physical; the goalies on either end working solidly to keep their respective teams in the game.
It looked like it was going to go to overtime, but Kris Versteeg, who had made some iffy plays earlier in the game, redeemed himself by scoring the leading goal for Chicago with just 1:30 left on the clock. The Canucks pulled Luongo for empty net, and Patrick Kane tossed in an empty-netter with 47.7 seconds left, leading to a shower of the red playoff towels onto the ice. Whether you like Kane's brash style or no, you have to admit he has certainly come up for the Blackhawks repeatedly in the clinch this post-season.
And that was all she wrote, as the Blackhawks managed to come from behind, fans having heart attacks all the way, and win tonight's game to make the series 1-1.
Roberto Luongo ended up being the #3 star of the game; Brent Seabrook was #2 and Kris Versteeg, with his winning goal, came out #1, despite some bad play earlier in the game.
The Blackhawks will now travel to Vancouver, where they will play games 3 and 4. While there is no doubt that the Canucks will be happy to be back in their own house, there will be momentum behind the Men of Four Feathers, and there will be a special kind of homecoming for several members of the Blackhawks.
After all, the Vancouver's rink - General Motors Place (GM Place) was converted to be "Canada Hockey Place" for the 2010 Olympics. It is here that half a dozen of Chicago's finest competed for top honors, with four coming home with medals - Gold for Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook; and Silver for Patrick Kane - and two just missing out in the Bronze round (Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky). No doubt that memories will linger from the Olympics and help fuel these core players to succeed as they did just a few short months ago.
Here, too, is the home turf - British Columbia - of four Blackhawks: Troy Brouwer, Colin Fraser, Andrew Ladd and Brent Seabrook were teammates as kids on the Pacific Vipers. It's interesting to note that several years later, the four players are reunited on the Blackhawks.
More interesting to note? The Vancouver Canucks, although approximately 61% Canadian, has no players from British Columbia on their roster. But it is their home rink and the natives are restless; expectations are high. Certainly the Vancouver team would like nothing more than to bring home the Stanley Cup home in the same year that they brought home Olympic hockey gold; plus, the team has never won the Cup in their 40-year history.
But Chicago's drought has been longer than the Canucks have been in existance; they haven't brought Lord Stanley's trophy home to the Windy City since 1961 - 49 years.
Expectations run high on both sides of the ice. We'll see what happens in Vancouver on Wednesday night.