All three home teams had different opportunities heading into last night’s games. All three failed to seize said opportunity.
The Los Angeles Kings, as expected, were unable to inflate their bursted bubble, and now find themselves heading back to San Jose on the brink of elimination after Thursday night’s 6-3 loss. San Jose took a 3-0 lead in the second period before LA kinda, sorta tried to come back, scoring twice before allowing another three to reopen the floodgates. This series doesn’t look like an instant classic, and I think it’s safe to say the Red Wings are watching tape of the Sharks.
Of course, there is still that matter of whether the Red Wings will even play the Sharks, given that top seed Vancouver doesn’t seem to want to place themselves into the conference semifinals too early. Chicago dominated the Canucks for the second game in a row, winning again by a five goal margin. The game was over early, as 20 minutes into the game the Hawks led 3-0 and Vancouver had already spent its timeout. It got to 5-0 by the second intermission, and that was the final score as Corey Crawford turned away all 36 shots he faced. Chicago did what Detroit could not do last year in its attempt to keep the Game 4 momentum rolling against the Sharks. At this moment, the Hawks trail the series 3-2, but lead in goal differential by 7.
The Blackhawks set the tone very early by taking a cross checking penalty when two players lit up an unsuspecting Daniel Sedin, who had his back turned but was within a stick’s swipe of Crawford. Sedin stayed down for a moment and winced in pain, but the Canucks were unable to convert on the power play and never again had any momentum in the game. The series now is starting to smell a lot more like an 0-3 comeback, but there are still two legs to go for the defending champs. One thing Vancouver will need to do at the United Center in Game 6 is assert themselves as the more physical team. If they allow their MVP candidate to be blasted from behind without any physical or scoreboard retaliation, they risk not only another loss and a tied series, but they also send the message that they are not willing to push back. This realization would only fuel Chicago’s fire, and allow the Hawks to feel free to blast away on the twins, knowing that there’s no risk of a power play goal and little risk of getting beat up.
Another thing the Canucks should think about, but won’t, is starting Cory Schneider in net for Game 6. Many people will call me an idiot for this, but let me explain why it’s worth a shot. First, if you win, it’s over. All is good. If you lose, there’s another game to play. It would be at home, and for all the marbles. There’s no way the Canucks would roll Luongo every game only to bench him for the final game. Additionally, Luongo is bad in the playoffs against Chicago, sporting a 7-10 record with a 3.56 GAA. He’s absolutely starting a Game 7, without question. His 12 year contract demands it. But the same isn’t true of Game 6. There can be a number of explanations, from “he needed rest” to “we wanted to try to ignite the team” to “Robbie’s day-to-day with a Chara mystery disease.” The truth can be that Vignault thought it was possible that Schneider gave the team a better chance to win on that night, but he doesn’t have to say that. Of course, there’s no way this will happen because if it doesn’t work and Luongo loses Game 7, Coach V faces criticism and Luongo feels slighted. It’s not hard to pick up on Luongo’s insecurity. It shows every time he whips his head around and does his mannerisms that scream “I know a camera is on me right now.” It also showed during the Olympics, when he won a gold medal despite playing with a blocker on each hand. We all know that when a front office signs a player to a 12 year deal, the coach has no choice but to roll the player out. So there’s really nothing more to say on the matter — Luongo will be in net for Game 6, and he better be good or he’ll put the franchise in a position to take five steps back.
The other game last night was of course the Boston / Montreal Game 4 at the Bell Centre. Boston fell behind three times only to send it to overtime and win it early in the extra frame, 5-4. The series seems extremely competitive and exciting, but I think Montreal blew their best chance and will find it hard to continue the trend of road victories in Game 5. There’s certainly no reason to think Montreal can’t win two of three from here on out, but Boston just looks to me like the more playoff-ready team, despite the results of both teams last year. If nothing else though, the pressure has shifted back to Boston, or at least is shared now, and that may prove to be liberating for the Habs. I don’t think that’s the case though, as Montreal looked pretty liberated last night right up until the goal that tied it at 4 late in the game. Hard to imagine they feel better going into Game 5 than they did last night when they outshot the B’s 15-8 in the opening period.
Three impressive road victories, to go with three missed opportunities for teams that may have needed wins.