I’m looking forward to tonight’s big match-up between the Vancouver Canucks and their nemesis the Chicago Blackhawks for a few reasons. I’m intrigued to see how Roberto Luongo plays against his arch-rivals as the fascinating goaltending saga goes on. I’m eager to see if guys like Zack Kassian and Keith Ballard can keep up their strong play. I’m looking forward to some quality time with my lovely wife Gail (who patiently puts up with my blogging shenanigans). And I wonder if there will be any retribution for Duncan Keith for his dirty hit on Daniel Sedin at the end of last season.
Just 21 months ago, I witnessed the same two teams clash in the best game that I’ve ever seen live. Of course, I’m talking about game 7 in the first-round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. There had been so much drama and unrest leading up to game 7 as the Blackhawks had won three straight games to tie the series and bring the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks to the brink of elimination. There were questions about the officiating and questions about the Canucks goaltending (apparently the more things change the more they stay the same). In fact, Roberto Luongo had been pulled in both games 4 and 5 before Cory Schneider was given the surprise start in game 6. Schneider then was pulled in game 6…but due to injury. Add in the fact that the Blackhawks had eliminated the Canucks in the second-round the two previous years and you can see why the game meant so much.
The atmosphere in Rogers Arena was incomparable that evening; there was a noticeable excitement, intensity and nervousness in the crowd the entire night. I’m sure you remember the game details very vividly: how Alex Burrows scored early in the first and even had a chance to put the Canucks up by two with a penalty shot early in the third period. How Jonathan Toews tied the game up with only two minutes left in the third period scoring from his knees with an amazing short-handed effort.
The 17-minute intermission between the third period and overtime was among the longest 17 minutes of my life. I remember very vividly that the crowd sat in stunned silence for the entire time. My buddy Mike and I, both of us never short for words when at a Canucks game, didn’t say a word to each other for the duration of the intermission. There wasn’t really anything to be said. We were about to witness history: either the Canucks were about to exorcise the Chicago Blackhawks demons or they would complete one of the greatest meltdowns in NHL playoff history.
We didn’t have to wait too long for a sign. And it wasn’t a good one.
Just 24 seconds into the extra frame, Alex Burrows took a holding penalty on Duncan Keith on what seemed like a harmless play behind the Chicago net. On the ensuing power-play, Roberto Luongo made an absolutely amazing save on Patrick Sharp’s one-timer from five feet away. In watching the save countless times, I will say that it wasn’t Luongo’s most difficult save of the season. But it certainly was his biggest.
You know the rest: just two shifts later, Burrows intercepted Chris Campoli’s clearing attempt, deftly dropped the puck to his feet, and slapped the winner over Crawford’s blocker. The goal set off a wild celebration both on the ice (remember Victor Oreskovich jumping around looking for someone to hug?) and in the stands. It’s certainly the loudest I’ve ever heard the crowd at Rogers Arena…rivaled only by the roar after Kevin Bieksa scored in game 5 vs. the Sharks to send the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals.
That’s why I look forward to Blackhawks-Canucks games. They always seem to be intense and exciting contests. We’ll see what drama unfolds tonight.