Incredible. After facing a three games to none deficit in their first round series with the top seeded Vancouver Canucks, the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks saw their season end on Tuesday night with a heartbreaking Game 7 loss in overtime.
Alex Burrows prevented a historic collapse by Vancouver with a series clinching goal in the sixth minute of overtime on Tuesday night. Vancouver dominated for much of Game 7 but never led by more than a single goal. That goal came within the first three minutes of the opening period when Alex Burrows’ wrist shot found the back of the net. The home crowd in Vancouver, understandably anxious fter three straight losses, exploded in delight.
There would be no more scoring until the final minutes of the third period. Stymied for the first 58 minutes, Chicago leveled the score at 1-1 in the final minutes of the third when Jonathan Toews' backhander found the net just as the magical run for Chicago seemed destined to come to an end. Absolutely remarkable.
Canucks goaltender Robert Luongo bounced back nicely with 31 saves in the 2-1 OT win, a welcomed sight for Canucks fans after Luongo had been pulled in both Games 4 and 5, and then benched in favor of rookie reserve Cory Schneider in Game 6.
Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford was the real star of the night from the position. He turned in a dominant and on multiple occassions, breath taking performance in the losing effort. Crawford finished with 36 saves, including, by my count, at least four filthy stops in the third period, beginning with a penalty shot stop in the first minute of the final period. Three more impressive stops came later in the third with Chicago down one and frantically looking for a late-game equalizer.
After a disappointing, up-and-down regular season, the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup defense had to come from the No. 8 slot in the Western Conference playoffs. After dropping the first three games of the series, Chicago stormed back to win games four through six by a combined score of 16-5. Tuesday night’s game marked the first time in 16 years that the Blackhawks played a game seven in a playoff series. When Ben Smith ended Game 6 in overtime to level the series at three, most Blackhawks fans felt they’d complete the improbable comeback. Unfortunately, the number of teams to ever overcome a three game deficit in an NHL playoff series will remain at three for at least another year.
There’s one thing champions never do and that’s quit. The ending may have been disappointing, but it was still a remarkable, gritty effort by the defending champs, one Blackhawks fans in Chicago and across the country won’t soon forget.
For more postgame reaction and fan discussion in the wake of Chicago’s playoff series loss, head on over to Second City Hockey to celebrate, mourn, and look forward to what’s next.
Beyond what's already been written about this series -- that only three NHL teams have ever come back from being down three games to none, and only one other team in any sport (the 2004 Red Sox over the Yankees) have done the same -- there's one other "hardly ever happens" connected with today's Blackhawks vs. Canucks Game 7.
The Blackhawks haven't even been involved in a Game 7 in 16 years. That year, the truncated season shortened a labor dispute, the Hawks defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in a seven-game, first-round series. That team eventually went on to lose in the conference finals. So, of the current Blackhawks, only Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell, Marty Turco and Fernando Pisani have played in a Game 7, and obviously, only three of them will tonight (Turco is unlikely to see action).
The Hawks will have to take this game without Bryan Bickell, who suffered an injured tendon in his wrist in Game 2 and had surgery yesterday. They'll miss the winger's big body; the Hawks have toughened up since Raffi Torres' hit on Brent Seabrook and that's one of the biggest reasons the series has come down to Game 7.
The Canucks are supposed to start Roberto Luongo in goal tonight, after sitting him on Sunday until backup Cory Schneider got hurt. Luongo has been a big game goalie -- he's got the gold medal from last year's Olympics -- but somehow, that hasn't translated into playoff success.
It's win or go home for the summer for both teams. It starts at 9 p.m. CDT and will be on CSN Chicago Plus (and switched over to the main CSN channel after the Bulls game ends). It's also on Versus nationally.