I was very – VERY – tempted to post immediately after game 3 with the collective vitriol of all Canucks fans, however I decided that I should sleep on it, consider what I saw, roll it around in my head for a bit, and give you a measured, reasoned response.
There’s no way I could do so, given how badly we were outplayed, out coached, out skated and out hit last game. There’s no way I can give you calm and collected when the officiating has been so blatantly inconsistent for every game, in every series. I know that so many are writing that Vancouver fans always think the sky is falling after every bad game, that because of the talent and resilience of this particular team, that all that fear and doomsday expectation is all premature and for naught.
But they don’t know the Canucks like we do.
All I can say is that the Canucks will have to play a significantly different game than what they’ve played thus far. The Blackhawks seem intent on playing dirty, grinding, hard-nosed hockey. I cannot count the number of times they’ve hit Luongo in the mask with sticks, can’t count the number of legs, and elbows and sticks have “inadvertently” crashed into him, can’t BELIEVE how many times he’s just been out and out run. Even more disturbing is the reaction or lack thereof from the Canucks. Clearly the refs are not going to call the game by the rules help them.
Guys like Kesler, Bernier (who played so well in the LA series, but has been a complete bust so far in this one), Wellwood, Bieksa, Rome, Alberts (the triumverate that curiously, though appropriately, form the acronym BRA, as in they play like they should be wearing one) need to step up, grow a pair, and play like they have some hair on their chests. Guys like O’Brien, Rypien, and Glass need to play within their abilities (i.e. no Orr-like rushes up the ice, while horrified teammates just watch, completely puzzled and awe-struck, and not in a good way), play UP to their abilities, and not take stupid penalties. The Sedins, Samuellson, Burrows, Raymond – they just need to start generating some chances. I hate to say it, but the twins have pretty much been shut down – not because they’re being dominated physically, but because their cycle has been pretty static. Too many people standing in spots instead of (duh) cycling. They need to churn their feet, get the puck to the net, get sticks on pucks and draw calls (if that’s still possible). Luo needs to show the hell up, control his damn rebounds and maybe start going a little Billy Smith. If they’re going to make him fight for his space, then fight for it, just make sure you’re concentrating on the puck, not the traffic. The defence! Don’t get me started on the defence. Suffice to say that they need to clear rebounds and bodies.
But most of all, we really need to be more physical. And I don’t mean giant windmill punches over the top with your gloves on, Mr. Burrows. I mean, we really need to get in Niemi’s face, get in his space, get some of those tap in goals in the crease, on top of a prone goaltender you’ve just elbowed in the chin, that are suddenly allowed this post-season. We need to pound Brian Campbell, just to see if that clavicle is really healed. We need to make it painful for guys like Hossa and Kane to come out of the corners. We need to make Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarson and especially Sopel hear footsteps tonight. We need to clear rebounds, not get beat to the front of the net in short foot races, win pucks on the boards, make crisp, accurate passes, hit the goddamn net, and backcheck like our playoff lives depend on it.
And they do. Lose this game, and the Canucks might as well start booking tee times. We need to win 2 in a row to take control of this one, because Game 5 is always the most important and pivotal game in any series. I’m not going to say I agree with Vignault’s line-up changes (Rypien and Demitra out, Grabner and Glass in), but maybe Grabner will give us the offensive jump we need, and Glass can play the kind of muck-slinging game this needs to be. Let’s hope that our Canucks are up to it, or I will be stuck cheering for the Habs. Good lord. Can you imagine a San Jose – Canadiens final? Neither can I.