The Vancouver Canucks never trailed in the series, building a three games to none lead before the Chicago Blackhawks fought back to force a game seven.
They never trailed in that game seven Tuesday night, grabbing an early 1-0 lead after Alexandre Burrows scored 2:43 in. It was a lead they held for the next 55:21 before Jonathan Toews notch a shorthanded goal to force overtime.
But even so, this year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners came this close to not advancing to the second round and having their season end in a most unfortunate manner, blowing a 3-0 series lead.
However, when Burrows found himself on the receiving end of a Chris Campoli turnover and blasted the puck over Corey Crawford’s right shoulder, the Canucks escaped a summer of second-guessing and “what-ifs”. The ensuing explosion of joy from the team, the coaching staff and the entire Canuck nation was not just a release of pressure built up from the past week, but also from the frustration from the past two years of failure against the Blackhawks.
“We needed to get over this hump”, Ryan Kesler said afterwards. “We’re going to relish this one and celebrate tonight and move on tomorrow”.
Burrows himself may have breathed the heaviest sigh of relief because he had placed his team in a very precarious position just seconds into the extra period. He entered the sin bin 24 ticks of the clock into overtime after holding Duncan Keith behind the net, but the Canuck’s penalty killing unit and goalie Roberto Luongo made sure it was not a series-killing infraction.
Not to be overlooked in the gallant effort by the Blackhawks is the performance of netminder Corey Crawford in his first playoff action. The young goalie went the distance for Chicago with a 2.21 GAA.927SV% and one shutout. He did everything he could to give his team a chance in game seven by stopping 36 of 38 shots faced.
Now the top seed in the west will prepare to take on the fifth seeded Nashville Predators who knocked off Anaheim in game six of that series last Sunday. This leaves the other matchup out west between the San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings. The Wings should be well rested given their week off after sweeping the Phoenix Coyotes.
Back east, two series remain to be determined after last night’s 2-1 game-six win by Montreal over Boston. Tonight those two teams will meet in Beantown to settle matters while the Tampa Bay Lightning head to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins. The Pens held a three games to one lead but Tampa has bolted back to force the deciding game in Steel Town.
The Habs/Bruins series has turned out to be the slugfest many of us expected and I expect nothing less tonight.
Elsewhere, the Philadelphia Flyers disposed of the Buffalo Sabres in their game seven Tuesday night by the score of 5-2. Sabres fans will probably remember the inability to hold a two-goal lead at home last Sunday during game six more than the way things unraveled last night.
Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff, however, had nothing but words of praise for the way his team battled against the defending Eastern Conference champions.
“There were some guys who were able to muster up energy, some other guys played more than their role, but those guys emptied their tanks for me,” Ruff said. “For four months, we asked them to go above and beyond and they did.”
As for how the second round in the east will shake out, if Montreal wins tonight they’ll draw the Washington Capitals while Philly gets the Tampa Bay/Pittsburgh winner. If The Bruins prevail, then they get the Flyers and the Caps will take on either the Penguins or Lightning.