You'd hope NHL lord of discipline Colin Campbell is paying close attention Sunday night to Game 6 of the Blackhawks-Canucks Western Conference quarterfinals. His focus on enforcing rules on head shots obviously has been diverted so far.
In contrast, the horse is out of the barn for Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. Mapping out a strategy of aggressive, physical play against the designed-for-virtuoso Hawks, Vigneault allowed things to get out of hand as seemingly a fourth of his roster have been thrusting elbows at Hawks' noggins. All that's done, as Campbell has eschewed throwing the book at the Canucks, is awaken a sleeping giant, to paraphrase Adm. Yamamoto after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Well, maybe not a giant, but the Hawks are a different, focused, motivated team after the series of on-ice beatings they've sustained.
How foolish can a coach be to go up 3-0 on a sagging team, the energy of its stars apparently totally drained, and concoct tactics to get them angry when the best angle would have simply play a skilled game for which the Canucks have been known. If they lost a game or two along the way, fine. But at 3-0, you don't monkey with opponents' motivation through foul play.
Now it's anybody's series, the Hawks on the verge of defying the odds against comebacks from three games down. The Hawks may have taken some shots to their heads, but now the Canucks have real headaches, and head cases. For the third year in a row, goalie Roberto Luongo has been hammered and harassed by the Hawks. Getting chased in two straight games after his stingy 2.17 regular-season goals-against-average is the mark of a a netminder with real issues in the postseason.
Realistically, the Hawks comeback could continue another game with the emotional lift the home crowd should provide in Game 6, but then fall short in the winner-take-all Game 7 Tuesday in Vancouver. That's why comebacks from 0-3 are so rare, having been done only four times previous in hockey with the Red Sox the only baseball team to pull the Lazarus act. Outright four-game sweeps are not that common, either. Three in a row is more realistic with some memorable comebacks from 3-1 deficits.
Dave Bolland makes all the difference in the world for the Hawks. As long as the crafty center is around to get in the heads of the Sedin twins, the Canucks' attack is hampered. If the Hawks lose the series 4-3, Bolland's absence for the first three games will be considered the key factor.
If the Hawks do pull off what Marian Hossa classified as a "miracle" after Game 3, don't bet on a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, as the Flyers fashioned last season after rallying from an 0-3 deficit against the Bruins. The Hawks will be like a basketball team that comes back from a 25-point halftime deficit. They would have expended too much energy in the comeback to finish it off.
But it will be entertaining while it lasted. Which is more than the Hawks promised when they dropped the regular-season finale against Detroit and the first three games against Vancouver.