Willes: Quick, get me rewrite, Canucks somehow good enough to salvage point

 

 
 
 
 
Canucks centre Maxim Lapierre tries to split the Hawks' defence of Johnny Oduya (left) and Niklas Hjalmarsson Tuesday night in Chicago.
 

Canucks centre Maxim Lapierre tries to split the Hawks' defence of Johnny Oduya (left) and Niklas Hjalmarsson Tuesday night in Chicago.

Photograph by: Chares Rex Arbogast, AP photo

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You need to know that, five minutes before the Vancouver Canucks cashed in a winning lottery ticket, there was a perfectly good column written which extolled the Chicago Blackhawks many virtues while lamenting the Canucks' glaring shortcomings.

That baby sang like Pavarotti. The Blackhawks sliced up the Canucks like they were a steak at Benihana. The Canucks, a team built on speed and skill, weren't in the same galaxy as the Hawks. Cory Schneider deserved a Congressional medal for keeping his team in the game. If you were wondering why the Hawks are unanimously considered the NHL's best team, now you know.

It was insightful, sharply written, funny; geez it was good. And it was also rendered completely irrelevant by the game's final two minutes and 42 seconds when the Canucks rose from the coroner's slab and took a point out of the Windy City.

I mean, how do you make sense of this one? In point of fact, the Canucks were fully deserving of a righteous carving on this night. For 57 minutes and 18 seconds they were outplayed, outclassed, outskilled – you name it – by a team that has yet to lose a game in regulation this season.

That development was dispiriting enough. But it also came in a statement game against the Canucks' most heated rival and the Orcans' performance raised all manner of questions about their aspirations to greatness.

How bad was it? Well, in the first period, the Canucks surrendered three clearcut breakaways on the indomitable Schneider. And that was their best period of the game. Over the final two periods, Schneider faced an unending loop of odd-man rushes and prime scoring chances as the Hawks fired 43 shots on net, 42 of which had to be legitimate chances. It was fun to watch and it was certainly exciting, but if their goalie is just average on this night, the Canucks lose 6-2.

As it was, Schneider kept battling, kept playing the role of the Spartan army in the movie 300, and, finally, his teammates took inspiration from his performance.

The comeback, sadly, started when Hawks' forward Marian Hossa suffered some manner of head injury when Jannik Hansen conked him while trying to bat the puck out of the air. Hossa, to that point, had been the man of the match with two goals and five shots in a masterful performance. The big Slovak has had an unfortunate history with head injuries and you just hope he's alright because the game needs him.

Had Hossa, in fact, been the trigger man on any one of the Hawks 312 odd-man rushes in the third period, it's quite likely the home team would have put this one away long before the Canucks' late rally.

But with Schneider giving his mates some semblance of hope, the Canucks got the NHL's obligatory late power play which they turned into an Alex Edler goal before Kevin Bieksa scored the tying goal with, ironically, Schneider out of the net, pulled for an extra attacker.

Now, there's further irony in two Canucks' defencemen scoring the two goals that brought the team back because, for the 57 minutes and 18 seconds which preceded the rally, the blueline was horrid.

This is also becoming a troubling issue with this team. It's one thing when Hossa walks out from the corner and beats Schneider from in tight. But virtually every Chicago forward made a similar play. The Orcans have a lot of money tied up in their back end and it was expected they'd be a difference-maker. It hasn't happened yet and it's getting to the point where Alain Vigneault can no longer justify investing top-four minutes in Jason Garrison.

But that's another story for another day. When you take out the wide-angle lens, it's hard to carve a team when they've come back from the dead against the NHL's best team. It's hard to take out the butcher's knife when the Canucks dug deep and salvaged something out of a contest when everything was stacked against them.

No, the final 162 seconds made it difficult to draw any eternal truths from Tuesday night's affair except, maybe, for this. In the Western Conference, the road to the Stanley Cup final now runs through Chicago.

If that's the case, you can only hope these two teams meet again in the spring. After this year's lockout, it would be a nice payback to the fans in both cities.

 

 
 
 
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Canucks centre Maxim Lapierre tries to split the Hawks' defence of Johnny Oduya (left) and Niklas Hjalmarsson Tuesday night in Chicago.
 

Canucks centre Maxim Lapierre tries to split the Hawks' defence of Johnny Oduya (left) and Niklas Hjalmarsson Tuesday night in Chicago.

Photograph by: Chares Rex Arbogast, AP photo

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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