Usually, when it’s observed that the Blackhawks lost a lot of their key depth, it’s observed in the same breath that their core is still intact. It’s true that Kane, Toews, Sharp, Hossa, Keith, Seabrook and Campbell are all still there. Depth is important, but with a strong core like the Hawks have, they can threaten to look a lot like the team that won the Cup a year ago.

So what’s the game plan against them? Play to their weakness.

The Blackhawks’ depth players just can’t be leaned on. The hope is that they can be put on the ice for a while to give the heavy hitters a break, but one look at their ice time shows they aren’t trusted in high-risk situations. The Blackhawks can’t rely on their depth as they could last season. As a result, the much-lauded core has to play more. With the exception of Keith and Seabrook, none of the Blackhawks’ core are used to playing the minutes they saw Wednesday night.

And Alain Vigneault made a little comment about it at his post-game podium. Just a little dig:

“I think one of the reasons that we can play at a fast pace is that we can play our bench, and it permits us to keep, most of the time, some momentum.”

That’s right, unlike some coaches (mentioning no names, of course), Vigneault can “play his bench.” You know the Blackhawks caught that comment. I wonder if it doesn’t contain a little dare. Go ahead, play your fourth line more. Let’s see how it goes.

The Blackhawks are already feeling the effects of fatigue, as they took a break from the ice yesterday. They’re tired. They’ll come back strong next game because it’s the playoffs and they have to, but they won’t be their best. They physically can’t. The Canucks have employed experts who can go on at great lengths about how fatigue affects reaction time. No amount of determination will overcome the physical limitations of the human brain. Tired teams just don’t play as well.

The Sedin twins played only around 17 minutes last game. Obviously, the Canucks had a two-goal lead after the first, and were able to rest the Sedins a bit. Rest is something the Blackhawks players won’t be seeing much of, and it doesn’t help that they’re already tired, and the Canucks know it. Look what Alain Vigneault said yesterday:

“Chicago came in here. They had played five games in eight nights. Five stressful and intense games. We felt it was important for us to come out with a good start.”

So what’s the game plan? Hit them hard, strike early if possible, and roll four lines to keep your players well-rested. A short series would be preferred, but the Canucks are better-equipped for a long one than the depleted and fatigued ‘Hawks.

It even helps that the score Wednesday night was 2-0, instead of 4-0 or even 3-0. A two-goal lead means expending every effort possible to get that first one, because a one-goal lead is awfully close with a goalie pulled in the last 90 seconds of the game. The fourth line can see some real minutes in a blowout, but in a close game, you’re forced to play as hard as you can.

Vigneault didn’t seem to feel the need for insurance. Aware that the 2-0 lead is the worst in hockey, he seemed content to let the Sedins rest, and trusted his grinders to play sound defense and let the Blackhawks wear themselves out. Even that was something of a taunt: Quenneville and his staff likely spent plenty of time preparing to shut down the Sedins, and then Vigneault played them for less than a third of the game. He claims he plans to limit the length of their shifts to 30-35 seconds. If that sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is.

And Vigneault knows it, which is why he said it. It’s a taunt to his opposing coach. I could do that, if I wanted. You can’t.

Lots of folks in the last two years said that Vigneault was “outcoached” by Quenneville. They said he was coaching scared. Kyle Wellwood said the Canucks play like they’re afraid to lose.

If Vigneault was afraid to lose Game 1, he’d have sent the Sedins out a bit more to get some insurance. It’s not easy to feel comfortable for 40 minutes of a playoff game with just a 2-0 lead, especially against a team like the Blackhawks. The inevitable pushback was a risk Vigneault was apparently willing to take, because while he likes winning a game, he likes winning a series more.

The Canucks had 20 hits in the first period. They rolled four lines. Kesler was the only forward to break 20 minutes last game, and even his minutes weren’t above par. The Canucks are well-rested and ready for Game 2, and they’re far more prepared for a Game 6 or a Game 7 than the ‘Hawks will be. Vigneault knows what happens when you can’t roll four lines and have to lean too much on your big guns in the playoffs. He’s been in that position, and he’s seen the effects first hand.

And he’s determined to do the same to the Blackhawks.

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8 comments

  1. DanD
    April 15, 2011

    Well said! I’m loving the confidence AV and the Canucks have. And it really seems to show in those little things.

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  2. fan
    April 15, 2011

    Let’s please stop talking about how shrewd Vigneault is and how deep canuck canyon is until they beat Chicago at least a couple more times.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      April 15, 2011

      Hear what you’re saying, Fan, but there isn’t much to write about if we have to wait for the Canucks to win ALL the games before we say anything positive. Plus Qris isn’t wrong with this article. This is what Vigneault’s doing; it just remains to be seen whether it works.

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    • Qris Johnson
      April 15, 2011

      Actually, no. I don’t think I’m going to stop talking about either of those things.

      Know how shrewd Alain Vigneault is? He was able to measure the depth of canuck canyon just by eyeballing it. He said it’s “ridiculously deep.” When asked exactly how deep it was, he said, “It’s club policy not to give exact measurements regarding the depth of our canyon, but it should suffice to say, if I threw a pebble in, with zero air resistance it would take the pebble a little over 93 seconds to hit the bottom of the canyon.

      That’s really deep.

      Also, Vigneault made that calculation IN HIS HEAD. How shrewd is that?

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  3. Steve
    April 15, 2011

    im guessing the “also good” section is gone forever? i am assuming the sun won’t/can’t advertise other canuck related websites. bummer

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    • sunedit
      April 15, 2011

      We’re working on it, Steve. Taking a little code-headbutting, but I think I have a solution.
      We certainly have no problem pointing to outside sources if they’re quality, and we don’t want to trim anything off PITB’s existing flava.
      Stay tuned.

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  4. Reece Elliott
    April 15, 2011

    Question. Why is Harrison’s picture beside “by Qris Johnson” at the top as author?

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    • Daniel Wagner
      April 15, 2011

      Unfortunately, as a mysterious third contributor, Qris isn’t technically able to write for the Vancouver Sun. His articles are vetted and posted by Harrison or myself.

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