The Chicago Blackhawks are a win away from making history. For the Vancouver Canucks, it feels as though they’re repeating it.
If the Canucks are going to get bounced from the playoffs by the Blackhawks for a third straight season – and enter the NHL history books for blowing a 3-0 series lead – they’ll do it with their general manager blasting the officiating and their franchise goalie stopping shots.
Faced with a decisive Game 7 on Tuesday night and the possibility of becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to lose a series after winning the first three games, GM Mike Gillis claimed the calls have been one-sided and coach Alain Vigneault declared Roberto Luongo his starter one game after benching him.
The first part may have been designed to take the focus off the second, though Gillis claimed he was just pointing out a discrepancy in penalties and what he believed were ”six or seven” missed calls in Sunday’s 4-3 overtime loss in Game 6.
Gillis cited a number of different statistics, but Chicago has a 27-16 series advantage in power plays – 22-12 over the last four games.
”You can say it’s sour grapes,” Gillis said. ”I’m not sure how you explain that discrepancy. … I’m very confident if we play the same way and it’s a level playing field then we will win (Game 7).”
Vancouver’s players weren’t willing to talk about Gillis’ rant, instead taking a few positives away from Game 6 after the Canucks were outscored 12-2 in the previous two games.
”All the pressure’s on them,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. ”They’re the ones up 3-0, they’re the first seed in the West, they were kinda predicted to win the Cup this year. We didn’t really have any of that pressure on us. You hope you have a mental edge, but who really knows?”
The Blackhawks appear to have an edge on the goalie they will face, assuming Vigneault was telling the truth when he said it would be Luongo.
The Canucks coach misled reporters before making rookie Cory Schneider the shocking Game 6 starter ahead of Luongo, who was named a Vezina Trophy finalist as the top NHL goalie Friday. Luongo, pulled from Games 4 and 5 and lit up by the Blackhawks the last three playoffs, came in after Schneider cramped up giving up the tying goal on a penalty shot early in the third period.
By the time Ben Smith lifted a rebound over a sprawled Luongo in overtime, Schneider was back on the bench after getting intravenous fluids. Schneider said he was fine to play Game 7, but Vigneault insisted the decision to start Luongo had already been made before the game.
”You can’t worry about what happened the last three games the same way Chicago didn’t worry about what happened the first three,” Luongo said. ”It would be easy for us to get low right now but I don’t think now is the time to feel sorry for ourselves. This is the time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks are just happy to be playing a Game 7 – something they avoided during their Cup run last season. Chicago backed its way into the playoffs, losing its final game and relying on help to clinch the West’s eighth and final seed.
”There have been a couple instances this year when it seems like we’re down and out and the season’s over, Kane said. ”It shows a lot about this group, the pride we have.”
They will have to complete the comeback without forward Bryan Bickell, who has two goals and two assists in five games but is out six to eight weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a wrist tendon that was lacerated in Game 2. At least they’ll still have Dave Bolland, whose Game 4 return from a concussion coincided with the disappearance of Canucks forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
The twins won the last two NHL scoring titles and recorded nine points the first three games. Since Bolland came back, however, the Sedins have three points, a minus-13 rating, and were on the ice for Smith’s Game 6 winner. Bolland has two goals, six points and a plus-6 rating.
”I don’t think I have a formula like math,” Bolland said. ”They’re just two ordinary players, right?”