There seemed to be no way the Blackhawks had a chance to win this series after the Canucks won the first three games. There seems to be no way they don’t now, not after the kid, Ben Smith, backhanded a rebound past backup goalie Roberto Luongo -- yes, backup goalie; more on that later -- at 15:30 over the first overtime to win Game 6.
The Hawks have faced three straight elimination games, and have won them all. Thing is, Game 6 didn’t seem like the Hawks were facing the end of their season. They trailed three times, but came back each time. They blew a 5-on-3 power play, but came back. Somehow, I felt they controlled enough of the game that they would win it, especially against surprise rookie starter Cory Schneider, who got the nod because Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said he had a “gut feeling.’’
More like indigestion caused by Luongo’s big-money, big-time failures against the Hawks.
Whatever, Vigneault was looking smart for a while. Schneider had his team ahead after the Canucks banged in a goal early in the third period for a 3-2 lead.
Then came the moment that would change Game 6. And Game 7. And maybe Luongo’s trade value.
About 90 seconds after the Canucks took the lead, Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith fired a 120-foot pass to Michael Frolik at the Canucks’ blue line, and Frolik blew around defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who dived and tripped Frolik for a penalty shot.
Not only did Frolik beat Schneider with a great move to the forehand to tie it, but he tied up Schneider so badly that the Canucks goalie appeared to rip a groin muscle as he futilely did the splits. Schneider couldn’t even roll over. That’s how badly he was hurt.
On came the tortured Luongo. Thank you, sir, may I have another?
The Hawks should’ve strafed the Canucks, but they managed only two shots on Luongo in the last 17:29 of the third period. The Canucks apparently were so afraid of Luongo’s ragged mindset that they checked better than they have all series.
But they couldn’t hide Luongo forever. The Hawks were going to jump on one of Luongo’s customary rebounds. They had to. It’s the way this thing works.
Smith played the hero, but Marian Hossa made the play. He moved through almost every Canuck on the ice, using his stick and skates, twice kicking the puck to his wand, the last time allowing him to get the puck to Hjalmarsson at the left point. Slap shot, rebound, see you in Vancouver.
Going into Game 7, the Hawks have all the momentum against a character-challenged team that apparently will be stuck starting its Vezina Trophy finalist in goal. That’s the Vezina Trophy finalist the Canucks didn’t want to start Game 6. That’s the Vezina Trophy finalist who has been destroyed for 11 goals on 53 shots in the last three games.
You have to like the Hawks’ chances, eh?