2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – First Round Series Recap
Western Conference Quarterfinals Game 7 - Vancouver 2, Chicago 1 (OT) – Canucks win series, 4-3
Vancouver, it’s time to exhale. The Chicago curse is finally and blessedly gone, while the specter of a blown 3-0 series lead will not haunt a city for decades to come. Yes, one year after the Boston Bruins gacked away a three-game advantage over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Vancouver Canucks barely avoided the same dubious distinction in a high-wire act against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Taken to the brink of extinction one week after amassing a seemingly insurmountable lead in a best-of-seven series, the Canucks regrouped just enough to stagger into the second round. They played quite well in the crucible of crunch-time competition, but after stumbling in three straight games against the defending champs, the problem for the President’s Trophy winner in the 2011 NHL season was that a good effort, if not accompanied by a bottom-line triumph, would have meant absolutely nothing. Vancouver could not console itself with a noble fight against its personal playoff nemesis from Chicago. The Canucks had to finally dispose of their rival if they wanted to breathe freely as a franchise.
They barely did so, but in the end, the emphasis should be placed on the doing itself, not the margin by which Vancouver escaped a shattering setback.
Alex Burrows scored his second goal 5:22 into overtime, while Vancouver captain Roberto Luongo made 31 saves, as the top-seeded Canucks avoided a historic playoff collapse by knocking the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks out of the first round with a one-goal win in Game 7 on Tuesday night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
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Burrows, who took a penalty early in the overtime period, pounced on a Chris Campoli turnover moments later. He fired a slap shot over the right shoulder of rookie Chicago goalie Corey Crawford and sent British Columbia in party mode.
Burrows scored his first goal at 2:43 of the opening period after some great work by linemate Ryan Kesler, who skated around defenseman Duncan Keith before laying an excellent pass in front of Burrows. Tuesday night’s hero snapped a quick shot into the empty net before Crawford had a chance to get across. Promptly, the Canucks gained an early lead, which held up for most of the game.
Just not all of it, though. Precisely when Vancouver was about to celebrate, the holders of Lord Stanley’s Cup made one last dash at prolonging their season.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews tied the score with just 1:56 left in regulation while killing a penalty at the same time. With the Canucks on a power play with a chance to finally extend their early lead, Toews split the defense off a 2-on-4 rush to set up Marian Hossa for a chance in front. Hossa was stopped, but Toews lifted the rebound over a sprawled Luongo and scored what might be the goal of the playoffs so far. The ability to score while shorthanded was eerily reminiscent of Chicago’s goal late in Game 5 of last year’s first round against Nashville. Had Chicago not escaped in overtime on that afternoon against the Predators, the Hawks might not have ended their 49-year Cup drought. When Toews scored against Vancouver, there was a strong sense inside the building that the Hawks were going to complete a resurrection act and win the series after trailing three games to none. Vancouver really had to bear down and find a new well of intensity, even more so when conceding an early penalty in the extra period.
Sure enough, Luongo – the bewildered goalie who has simply not been able to handle the Blackhawks in the postseason over the past few years – was up to the challenge. Luongo stoned a point-blank shot on the power play and answered the call when his team (and coaching staff, and his city of fans) needed him to produce. Luongo’s display of brassy, ballsy brilliance set the stage for Mr. Burrows, and the Canucks finally dispelled the Windy City demon that had made life so miserable for them since 2009.
We’ll see if Vancouver is now able to exhale and play its best hockey. Maybe the Canucks will, and maybe they won’t. Rest assured, though: Even if Vancouver struggles in the second round against Nashville, that will be a very nice problem for the Canucks to have; it will certainly beat the alternative scenario – losing this series, and a 3-0 lead, to the Chicago Blackhawks, who have finally been dethroned as Stanley Cup champions.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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