Jeff Paterson: Not much choice
The matchup between the Canucks and Blackhawks is so close, it's impossible to choose the victor.
I give up and, trust me, I don’t like to be a quitter. But I have to admit I’m going to borrow a page from the late Roger Nielson and run a white towel up my hockey stick on this one.
Since the very moment the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated Nashville on Monday night confirming ‘THE REMATCH’, I have spent far too many hours racking my brain (insert joke here) utilizing every bit of grey matter trying to figure out what to make of the regular season series between the Vancouver Canucks and the hated Hawks.
What can anyone take from the four encounters between these terrific Western Conference rivals during the preamble to the playoffs to give any indication of what’s to come starting Saturday in the Windy City?
Each team beat the other twice. Each team squeaked out a one-goal victory in the other’s building getting the game winning goal in the third period early in the season while missing top forwards. Daniel Sedin was injured when the Canucks went into Chitown and handed the Hawks a 3-2 setback in October. Daniel returned to the Canucks line-up a month later the night the Blackhawks edged Vancouver 1-0 at GM Place with Marian Hossa nearing the end of his recovery from off-season shoulder surgery.
Not much to choose from there.
Each team used big first periods on home ice to run roughshod over the other in their post-Christmas contests. The Canucks went to town on Chicago getting nine scoring points from Daniel and Henrik Sedin along with Alex Burrows with the nation looking in on Hockey Night in Canada on January 23rd. The Canucks chased Hawks starter Antti Niemi after a period and rolled to a convincing 5-1 victory.
Not to be outdone, the Hawks sent Roberto Luongo to the showers after a tough 20 minutes in a 6-3 blow-out at United Center on March 5th. The Hawks got goals from six different scorers including a pair of markers just 33 seconds apart midway through a one-sided first period and got a measure of revenge in a heavily-hyped showdown a week after the Olympics.
Again, not much to choose from.
Willie Mitchell caught the Hawks attention when he stepped out of the penalty box and flattened Jonathan Toews with one of the hits of the NHL season in the October meeting of these teams. It was a doozy that left the Chicago captain woozy and out of commission for a couple of weeks. A couple of months later, Andrew Ladd caught Ryan Kesler with quick, hard left jab to the face that cut the Canucks centre open during a brief scrap at The Garage.
So both teams doled out some punishment and it’s hard to give either the physical edge during the regular season meetings.
Roberto Luongo made 43 saves in the Canucks 5-1 win on January 23rd. Annti Niemi stopped all 30 shots he faced in the Hawks 1-0 win on November 22nd. So while both goaltenders had nights to forget in the other team’s building – both showed just how capable they are when they’re on their games.
Judging solely by what we witnessed when these two teams got together this season, you’d have to call the goaltending battle a wash.
There were moments when Henrik Sedin showed the Blackhawks and their fans why he’s a Hart Trophy finalist while Duncan Keith demonstrated to the Canucks -- and Canuck Nation -- flashes of the brilliance that made him one of the three candidates for the Norris Trophy this season. So when it comes to hardware, it continues to be a hard call to find much difference between these two teams.
Slice it, dice it, chop this series any way you want and all anyone can know for sure is that series should be remarkable. From star power to players seeing stars, the rematch of the Canucks and Blackhawks will surely have everything any hockey fan could ever want in a head-to-head match-up.
One team will emerge halfway to its goal of winning the Stanley Cup while the other will be left with a summer to think about where things went wrong. But there can be no doubt the fans will be the big winners. There is no way this series can’t or won’t live up to its billing.
But don’t look here for a prediction. I already told you I’ve given up trying to figure out how this story will end. Check back with me when Game 7 goes to overtime and I’ll have a pick for you then. That’s how close things look from this vantage point.
Now let’s drop the puck and get this party started.