Canucks come out strong to survive in the series 3-2; Hawks lose 1-4 at the UC

With shades of game 1 in tonight's game, and looking like the opposite of games 3 and 4, the Blackhawks lost 1-4 to the Vancouver Canucks at home in the United Center to make the series 3-2. Now the series goes back to Vancouver for game six.

Tonight, there were a lot of angry fans up in the 300s. The difference between fans being angry and being disappointed is simple enough: the team has to show hustle and a full team effort on the ice. A loss is easier to swallow if you feel the home team brought their "A" game.

They certainly had plenty to upset about. If your team is 3-1 and can clinch the series with the next game, you expect that team to give it their all, play the type of game you've just watched for the last three wins, and get the job done.

You don't expect - okay, maybe at best you're hoping the team doesn't revert to the irregularities that plagued them through the end of the season and has caused both rounds of the series to have the fans reaching for the Pepto Bismol.

Shots on goal that seemed mostly aimed right at the other goalie, unproductive power plays, lack of speed, sloppy passing, too much fancy passing, dumb penalties - none of it helped by the same inconsistent refereeing that fans on both sides of the ice have complained about throughout this series.

About the only positive thing I can think to say right now is "At least it wasn't quite as horrific as game 1." But the line between the two is pretty thin at this point.

John Madden said during the Nashville series that he felt that he was "all lessoned out", or something to that effect. Apparently the Blackhawks as a whole haven't quite filled their quota, because every time they learn a lesson and you think it will stick, you get a game like game 5.

On the other end of the ice, shaving off his beard seemed to work for Luongo, and he played a solid game, and - as is frequently the case - the team came together in front of him, confident that he wasn't going to be a sieve tonight.

The Canucks buckled down, played smarter than they have for the past couple of games, and played like they had nothing to lose - and for the first time in four games, they were the more disciplined team, taking less penalties, screening the goalie better - and consequently scoring more, checked well, scooped up the big Hawks passes, and had their foot to the floor to show off their speed.

A bunch of random thoughts/observations about tonight's game:

- Seriously, can there BE any more inconsistent reffing going on? I'm even saying this towards both directions on the ice. Tonight seemed to be Byfuglien and Hossa's night in the box, with some glaring penalties being completely ignored.

- And jeez, Niemi took a penalty for hooking (which Ladd served in the box for him). It was a mixed bag for Niemi tonight; he made some great saves, but he also had two goals while screened and one on a breakaway.

- Where were the D-men? While they did scoop out a few important saves, the important thing missing - both for the offense and the defense - was speed.

- How come the fans all seem to realize that the team does too much fancy, cross-ice, big, easily-picked-off passes on the home ice, but the team doesn't? The fans don't care who scores. They want to see players carry the puck all the way to the goal, have a solid shot, and for there to be other players to attempt to make rebounds if the first one doesn't go in and gets deflected away. Few things are more frustrating than to be standing in the 300s with calls of "Shoooooooooooooot!!" raining around you, and watch the team looking for some kind of open alley. A goal is a goal, whether it's pretty or ugly. We like the pretty ones, but we also like the ugly ones.

- The team seems to alternate between linebackers/sacrificial bulls, and fearful of being hit or making a solid check. Take a lesson from Sopel, and put it all on the line for the team.

- Roberto Luongo seems to spend more time inside his net - and by that, I mean literally inside his net - than any other goalie I've seen in my entire life. I'd also like to point out his tendency to faceplant on the ice, so, after hearing Luongo himself admitting that he was warned early about flopping on the ice, it's just the kind of thing that makes you go "hmm".

- Why can't Kane pass to somebody instead of always seemingly blindly throwing away the puck or overshooting his target? (Or for that matter, on some nights, manage to pass instead of insisting on holding onto the puck?)

- Why do the Hawks pass so much, anyway? Based on their sloppy stick play over the season, you'd think they'd want to hold onto the puck as much as possible and try to limit the passing. It makes me especially nervous when they fling the puck around in front of their goalie.

- While I have fun with the whole "playoff beards" thing, I've always wondered about it. If you don't usually have a beard, wouldn't growing a beard at the most vital point in the season be an annoying distraction? Especially if you're a goalie and have a mask tight on your face?

- Antti Niemi has been working hard to hold things together in the goal, and the team has consistently talked about feeling comfortable with him in net and feeling very secure about him. But they continue to play inconsistently in front of them, which simply forces Niemi to play harder to compensate for spotty defense. While he might not be having the same kind of series that fellow Finnish rookie Tuukka Rask is, he certainly seems to be living up to Coach Q's assessment tht he can shake off the bad games and come back with good ones. The team as a whole still needs to step it up in front of him, every game.

- While we're talking about Niemi: I noticed that the Canucks had no hesitation tonight working hard to knock the Blackhawks out of the way to give Luongo clear views of just about every puck that came his way. Wish I could say the same thing about the Blackhawks, because Alexandre Burrows was doing his best Dustin Byfuglien imitation all night long.

- Good to see the team not just taking responsibility for the loss but admitting they played bad. "Talking nice" in front of the media is all well and good to attempt to reassure the fans that things can be better. Talking honest is better, so fans know that the team recognizes that it wasn't simply an off night but a flat-out bad game. I'm trying to remember what was said after the Columbus wipeout, but I seem to have wiped that nightmare out of my memory banks.

- Canuck Sami Salo took a puck to the groin late in the first period and ended up being sent to Northwestern Memorial. Fellow Canuck Shane O'Brien took a stick to the face, got stitched up and was back in the game later. MLB and NBA players, are you wusses listening?

On a last note, I have to say I love watching the sports media give themselves whiplash as they attempt to recoup after tonight's game. Two nights ago, they were throwing Vancouver under the bus. (To be fair, so was their coach.) Tonight, all the discussion is about how the team has "mental toughness" and "resilience". I'm not surprised - I think anybody who genuinely believed this series would end in five was just fooling themselves - but it's still almost-funny to see. Who will be the goat on Tuesday?

The series now heads back to Vancouver, where hopefully both teams will show up with their "A" game, and give the fans on both sides of the ice the level of game that they deserve to see.