There were plenty of reasons to get excited for this game. The storylines! The drama! The controversy! It was Duncan Keith’s first game against the Canucks since he concussed Daniel Sedin with a dirty cheap shot last season. It was Roberto Luongo’s third straight start despite Cory Schneider supposedly being the number one guy heading into the season. It was the red-hot Chicago Blackhawks against the water-treading Vancouver Canucks, in the first game of the season between these two rivals.
Yes, there was a lot of hype heading into this game, and none of it paid off.
It seemed pretty clear that both coaches wanted their players to avoid the emotional rollercoaster like we saw when Buffalo played Boston the game after Milan Lucic took out Ryan Miller. Both teams played a controlled, defensive style and there were minimal post-whistle scrums and such that we’d see in even a normal game between these two teams. Luongo played well, easily justifying Vigneault’s decision. It was disappointing.
Well, it was disappointing to anyone who actually believed the hype. While it wasn’t the prettiest game, it’s always nice to watch a win, which I managed to do when I watched this game.
Canucks 2 – 1 Blackhawks (SO)
The Canucks slowed this game down to a crawl and it looked intentional. It makes sense: the Blackhawks came into this game with a 5-0-1 record and a plus-9 goal differential, with a great powerplay and the best penalty kill in the league. The Canucks, on the other hand, have been limping through the start of the season, with Gillis flat-out stating that they “just needed to get through this first 2-3 weeks.” If the Canucks could have used Dr. Horrible’s Freeze Ray for the entire 60 minutes, they would have.
As for revenge on Duncan Keith, the Canucks thankfully showed little interest. They simply tried to hit him as you would any defenceman who carries the puck a lot and, as per usual, Keith side-stepped most of the hits. The biggest check on him was by none other than Henrik Sedin, who knocked him to the ice and received a big ovation from the Rogers Arena crowd. Henrik finished the game with 3 hits, which was odd. Then he rescued a whole bunch of Mudokons, which was Oddworld. Distinct difference.
The fans at Rogers Arena were fairly quiet all game — understandable given how uneventful it was, but they at least booed lustily whenever Keith touched the puck. They had plenty of opportunities, too, as Keith had over 28 minutes of ice time. Maybe that’s why the crowd was so quiet; all that booing wore them out. If there’s one thing I learned from reading Casper the Friendly Ghost comics, it was to always warm up and stretch before you boo.
On Tuesday, I wrote about how the Canucks were missing Kesler for the opening shift, and this game showed another example. Henrik Sedin lost the opening faceoff and the Canucks’ top line was stuck in the defensive zone for the first minute of the game, icing the puck three times in the process. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to ice it a fourth time, or they would have gotten the next one free.
The Blackhawks were undoubtedly the better team, but Roberto Luongo was phenomenal, stoning the Blackhawks all game like they were all named Stephen. Saul of Tarsus had box seats and looked on in approval.
Alex Edler started and finished the play that opened the scoring for the Canucks, threading a pass through the neutral zone to Henrik at the far blue line, who made a great move around Keith that somehow relieved the Blackhawks’ blueliner of his stick. With Mason Raymond driving the net and taking Keith with him, Henrik fed Zack “Dat Pass” Kassian, who faked the shot and found Edler trailing the play. It was a beautiful pass by Kassian that deserved a beautiful shot. Edler delivered, roofing a wrist shot over Corey Crawford. It was so beautiful that it made Ricky Fitts re-evaluate his entire existence.
Edler had a great game, but for one exception. He had a game-high 9 shot attempts — 3 on net, 3 blocked, and 3 missed — and blocked 3 shots himself. That one exception? He got absolutely undressed by Blackhawks’ rookie Brandon Saad, forcing Luongo to make one of his many fantastic saves. And by many fantastic saves, I mean just on that play, as he made a great kick save on Marian Hossa just a few seconds later. Luongo was more locked in than Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart.
Saad was arguably the Blackhawks’ best player, with a game-high 4 shots on net. He looked dangerous all night, and came just short of scoring when he got tripped by Edler while powering to the net. The whistle went for the penalty before it crossed and Hamhuis might have swept it away anyway, but it was still a great move by the rookie.
While the game lacked emotion, there was one moment where tempers flared like a pair of bell bottom jeans. Late in the first period, Burrows was sprung on a breakaway, but was called offside. Disappointed, he slid the puck into the net after the whistle, which understandably displeased the Blackhawks. Sheldon Brookbank went after him, Burrows shrugged his shoulders as if he didn’t know what was going on, and they both went to the box. That’s about as emotional as it got. I’ve seen more emotion from Ben Stein.
While it may not have been his best save, Luongo’s second period glove stop on Bryan Bickell was definitely his most theatric. He flashed more leather than a photographer for a baseball glove catalogue. That’s probably not where you thought I was going with that.
While Keith has replaced him as the main Blackhawks villain, there is still some distaste left for David Bolland. It was still unfortunate to see him leave the game early, however, as he was the recipient of an inadvertent slash on the ankle by Jannik Hansen, who was simply sweeping his stick behind him trying to deflect the puck. Bolland did not return.
Patrick Kane tied the game up midway through the third period off a nice pass from Andrew Shaw. It’s tough to apportion blame on this one. Jason Garrison and Jannik Hansen lose a puck battle along the boards to Patricks Sharp and Kane. Kevin Bieksa doesn’t take Kane, though he does have to worry about Sharp coming to the net. Chris Higgins can’t get back in time to take Kane’s stick. And Luongo slides across expecting the early shot, only to have Kane hold onto the puck and roof it. Really, it’s just a nice play by some of the Blackhawks’ best players.
The Canucks had a golden opportunity to re-take the lead, getting a powerplay before the puck was even dropped after Kane’s goal, which turned into a 5-on-3 shortly after. It was one of the worst 5-on-3s I have ever seen, as the first unit couldn’t even get set up in the offensive zone. It was more painful to watch than a Scary Movie sequel.
Luongo’s biggest and hardest save came late, as Shaw tipped the puck on net, then tried to poke it in. While some goaltenders get deked out of their jock straps, Luongo thankfully still had his on and made the save with his groinal area. It was his second knob save in as many games. It would have been tragic to let in such a junk goal at the end of such a magnificent performance.
The best part of that save is Jordan Schroeder boxing out his man and frantically pointing at Luongo’s crotch, trying to make him understand where the puck is. You can see it most clearly in the overhead view. It’s right there. Right there! No, don’t move, don’t fall backwards, IT’S RIGHT THERE!
Luongo continued his stellar work in overtime and in the shootout, stopping every single attempt on net. His best save in the shootout came on Kane, who tried his patented quintillion-deke, the same one that fried Cory Schneider’s synapses in Switzerland during the lockout. Luongo didn’t bite on any of his many dekes, then dove out and grabbed both the puck and Kane’s stick. Unfortunately, Kane then fell over, ruining Luongo’s plan to get a ride around the rink.
Schroeder got the chance to score the shootout winner with his first ever attempt in the NHL. He just barely succeeded, squeaking the puck through Crawford’s legs. He also had a little help from the goalie, who accidentally tapped the puck over the line as he made a last ditch effort to sweep the puck away with his stick. Thank goodness he scored or we would have had scores of fans blaming Luongo for choking and allowing the tying goal in the third.
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