Blackhawks leads series 3-1 after game four win vs Vancouver; Toews earns 1st career hat trick
Perhaps this game's most telling moment didn't come during the game, but in the post-game interviews when Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault, when asked if he felt Roberto Luongo was "off his game", threw his team's Captain/goalie under the bus with the very firm comment, "I think right now he's the second-best goaltender on the ice."
Vigneault immediately added, "He can be better. And he will be better."
But how much more time does Luongo have to be better? Is Vigneault referring to what remains of the series, or did he simply realize what came out of his mouth and realize mid-sentence what he'd just done?
It started in the first half minute of the game, as Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook scored 18 seconds after puck drop. Canucks player Kyle Wellwood returned the favor less than 90 seconds later, making the score 1-1. The first period was, as predicted, hard, physical, and fast, as both teams sought to dominate, ending up at 2-2.
But it was the Blackhawk's power play that dominated the night: 4 of the 7 goals scored were on Chicago power plays; three of those came in the middle period.
Of those 4 PP goals, 3 were scored by Jonathan Toews, to earn his first career hat trick, also becoming the first Blackhawks to score three power-play goals in a playoff game; and just the third Hawk to earn 5 points in a playoff game. To top it off, between his own scores plus his assists, Toews now has the NHL playoff scoring lead, with 18 points.
"Jonny had a special night,'' Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said with typical understatedness in the post-game interviews.
As in Wednesday's game, the Blackhawks did their best to frustrate the Canucks while trying to stay out of the penalty box. They make an obvious strong effort to remain focused and to not take the bait when offered.
On the other end of the ice, the Canucks took twice as many penalties as the Hawks, including a pair of back-to-backs from Daniel Sedin in the second.
As promised, they also tried harder to crash Chicago's crease, dogpiling on goalie Antti Niemi at least once, and one of the Sedins knocking Niemi over behind the net. But Niemi showed one of the reasons he has earned the nickname "the Finnish Fortress", refusing to rise to get a rise out of it, shaking off the incidents, and remaining focused on the task at hand. While it wasn't his best game - giving up four goals, while making 26 saves - he was good enough to beat out the goalie at the other end of the ice.
Ultimately, though, you could almost watch the Canucks unravel as the game rolled on. Most of the Vancouver penalties could've been avoided, and the Canucks coach stated it simply post-game: "When any team in the league gives Chicago the number of power plays that we gave them tonight, it doesn't matter who it is -- they're going to lose."
Part of it was the Canucks' focus on Dustin Byfuglien, which cleared the path for players like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp to do their thing. Part of it was that you could watch the Vancouver team loose their composure as the game wore on. Alex Burrows, for example, took an obvious swing at Byfuglien's head while he was already down on the ice in front of Luongo - and he didn't get penalized for it. While the fans in attendance that "the refs suck", it was an analysis that ran both ways. In short, a mess.
If their head coach tossed Luongo under the bus, perhaps it's only fair, as the team Captain tossed his defense squad under the same after game three. Even if Luongo was right, it was not the best move to make as team Captain; maybe he'll feel a bit of the same sting when he sees his coach's decisive statement about his being the "second-best goaltender" in this series.
By backstopping the gold-medal team in the Olympics, Luongo has been praised as the "top goalie in the world". But is he, really? After all, he had the best players in the world in front of him. He only had to be better than the goalie at the other end of the ice - USA's Ryan Miller, who put on a goalie clinic and stood on his head for the American team. As people keep saying, "Luongo hasn't been the same since the Olympics."
Maybe Olympic-gold Luongo is simply overhyped.
Chicago got out-everythinged in game one, took the loss, manned up to it not just as individual players but as a team, tightened their belts, and have since come back to show the hockey-loving world the team that won the Central Division. They fixed their issues - they haven't perfected them - but they have certainly changed their fortunes. This isn't the same team that was lucky to scrape through the first series and come out on top; this is a team that has realized that its dream is within reach, and they're going to do everything they can to make it a reality. They've managed to make their power play 7 for 24 - 34.6% - in this series.
In the meantime, Chicago needs to keep doing what they're doing: stay focused, work smart, work hard, not make stupid mistakes, and most of all, not get cocky. We can just take a look back at the first series to see where that almost got them.
Sunday, the two teams return to the United Center. Chicago would like to close out the series on home ice; the Canucks will fight to stay in the game.
The fans and the faithful at the UC will be hoping that the Blackhawks can make another trip to the third round, and from there, who knows?
Chicago scorers: Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews (x3), Patrick Sharp, Tomas Kopecky, and Dave Bolland.
Vancouver scorers: Kyle Wellwood, Daniel Sedin, Alexander Edler, Henrik Sedin