05/03/2010 8:52 AM - From chicagoblackhawks.com: (link)
CHICAGO – The puck barely squirted through the legs of Roberto Luongo and the sound of the Fratellis' "Chelsea Dagger" filled the cavernous United Center.
It was early in the third period of Saturday night's Western Conference Semifinals opener, and if you didn't know the score you might think the Blackhawks were still in the game.
Patrick Kane huddled with his teammates to celebrate his fifth goal of the 2010 playoffs. Hawks fans lifted their beverages and cheered for the first time since the national anthem was sung. It was a scene the Vancouver Canucks had dreaded -- hearing the song that usually sends shivers down their spines.
Instead, there were probably a few eye rolls from the guys in white sweaters. Maybe some sarcastic smiles. Maybe a few even hummed along to the Hawks' catchy goal-celebration ditty.
That's because Vancouver was sitting on a comfy 5-1 lead -- one that the Canucks made stand up for a stunning rout that left the Hawks and their disappointed fans wondering the same thing: What in the world just happened?
While the Canucks zoomed around the ice skating circles around the Hawks, the guys in the red sweaters looked like they were all wearing 50-pound weights.
"We were all just slow," said defenseman Duncan Keith, who's up for the Norris Trophy after an outstanding season at both ends of the rink. "We've got a fast team. We've got speed. But for whatever reason we weren't moving out there."
They moved just fine for the better part of the opening 20 minutes, blitzing Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo with 17 first-period shots and nearly scoring on several. The problem was missed chances and Luongo making some quality saves to keep the game scoreless early.
"I wouldn't say we had more jump that their team," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "They came out strong. The difference in tonight's game is we were able to finish and they couldn't finish. Our goaltender shut them down and we were able to get to theirs a little bit."
The bottom fell out for the Hawks shortly after Christian Ehrhoff's goal 13:51 into the first. Instead of taking it to the Canucks, the Hawks suddenly got back on their heels and finished the first period reeling – down 2-0 after a goal by Mason Raymond 10.5 seconds before the horn sounded to end the period.
It turned into a three-goal Canucks lead just 32 seconds into the second period when Henrik Sedin beat Antti Niemi, and from there the game was essentially over.
"It absolutely kills you," Hawks center John Madden said. "Momentum is everything in these playoffs. They took it from us right away, and just never gained it back."
That's because the Canucks never left the door open, not even a slightly. They only gave the puck away four times to the Hawks' 10 turnovers and didn't take any silly retaliatory penalties. Once they got up by three goals, the Canucks sucked the life out of the building.
"We can't be happy at all with the way the game went," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said, shifting his feet behind the podium in an agitated manner. "We had the start, but playing catch-up played right into their hands. We definitely have to have a response."
Rather than breaking down the video to see where it all went wrong, Quenneville might want to just break the DVD altogether. Watching it might do more harm than good -- especially for Niemi, who was replaced by backup Cristobal Huet to start the third period.
Niemi gave up all five goals and didn't speak with the media. When asked, the Hawks vouched for him and said they aren't concerned about him for Monday night's Game 2.
"Right now, just thinking about the goals that went in, I don't think any of them were directly his fault," Madden said. "We didn't play very good in front of him. It's hard to judge a goalie when the team in front of him is not playing very good."
Niemi bounced back with a shutout and his first playoff win against Nashville in the conference quarterfinals after allowing a fluky goal in Game 1 that led to a loss. Can he do it again on Monday night in Game 2?
"Sure. He's a great goalie," Madden said. "He's going to be back. I'm 100% sure that he'll be playing Monday and we'll come back out with a better effort and hopefully a better result."