Taking some solace in the silver lining
With a win over the Hawks, the Canucks avoided becoming hockey's lovable losers
The bad news: The Chicago Blackhawks' season is over.
The good news: Rogers Arena didn't become Wrigley Field.
We know how that would feel.
As disappointing as the 2-1 overtime loss to end the Blackhawks' season was, if you were watching the Canucks and their fans celebrate, knowing how tortured they've been over their history, you couldn't help but feel a tinge of relief for them.
But Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews scoring a short-handed goal from his stomach with less than two minutes to play? A chance for four straight losses for the top-seeded Canucks?
No, that's a hide-the-shoelaces, give-me-your-scissors scenario. Too cruel, too familiar, too, well, too 2003 Cubs.
It's fun to hate a team. And certainly there was no shortage of Schadenfreude in this series. From Roberto Luongo's tears in 2009 to Raffi Torres' cheap shot in Game 3, Blackhawks fans had every reason to revel in the possibilities of a historic collapse. Three playoff matchups in three seasons, capped off by a 3-0 Canucks lead that was erased like a chalkboard? That's how you build a rivalry.
But after the win -- clinched with an Alex Burrows goal off a Chris Campoli turnover -- Luongo, an Olympic gold medalist, said this ranks up there with the Olympics, especially after getting benched in Game 6 before returning to give up the game-winning goal.
"This one might be better than the Olympics, I've got to say," the goaltender said.
Vancouver has a history of these kinds of losses, which makes it fun to ridicule, sure, but if you've ever really rooted for a team, you feel empathetic too. In 1994, the Canucks lost a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals versus the New York Rangers, after being down in the series 3-1, and Vancouver rioted.
As National Post columnist Bruce Arthur wrote Monday, a loss to the Blackhawks would have just sunk the team's fans, which I assume is everyone in Vancouver, into a deep malaise.
I'm not a fan, so I can't say I feel the pain of a Blackhawks backer, but I know the feeling well.
But even the most ardent Blackhawks fan can admit this team was maddening to support, from last summer's bloodletting all the way to backing into the playoffs with a loss and some luck.
"It seems from the start of the season it's been a battle," coach Joel Quenneville admitted to reporters in Vancouver.
But over the past four games, the Blackhawks redeemed themselves for a hangover season and brought back a semblance of the energy they gave to Chicago last year. Because, to me, that's the point of sports at this level: civic pride and unity.
It sounds trite, but it's true. You want to see a team capture the imagination and attention of a city. If a team is playing only for itself, it's the Miami Heat. But to represent a city, and have that city love you, well, that's special. And while the Bulls have hurdled the Blackhawks as Chicago's premier team, it's nice to see everyone get excited about the Stanley Cup champions once again, considering what they've accomplished the last three years.
Picture that for a moment and you'll think you're in 1961, not 2011.
And in Vancouver, a hard-core Canucks fan, Kaylee Price (@kayleeprice), showed she understands the relationship between her team and Chicago's most famed luckless squad: "Thank ... god, the thought of being like a cubs fan made me want to vomit more than that OT."
Tuesday was a series-ending game for both United Center teams, one of those "it doesn't get any better" sports days, and it basically lived up to the hype.
The Bulls finally dominated the scrappy Indiana Pacers, and Derrick Rose's ankle held up fine. The Bulls moved on to the second round, and they will host either Atlanta or Orlando on Monday.
The Blackhawks seemed destined to lose after Burrows scored so early in the first period. Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford blocked, deflected and kicked everything that came his way, but the Hawks couldn't score. Crawford put together an impressive regular season, and in his brief but memorable postseason he performed like Sharks netminder Antti Niemi.
"One of the greatest goaltending performances in the clutch you're ever going to see," Quenneville said. "You've got to commend him, he was great."
For all the jokes that were made at Luongo's expense, he was holding his own until that desperation Toews goal with under two minutes to play. It was a classic Bobby Lu collapse and a classic Toews score. Some guys are just meant to win.
Toews initiated the play as he was slipping, passing to Marian Hossa, who got stuffed. Toews knocked in the rebound from a prone position.
When the Blackhawks got a power play to start overtime, well, I wouldn't blame Canucks fans for thinking the worst.
But when Burrows stole the puck from Campoli in the Hawks' zone and fired the winner past Crawford, it felt like the right result happened, even if it was such a painful way for it to end.
"I made the play, not him," Campoli said.
I hate the idea of moral victories, but if they do exist, Chicago won one Tuesday. The Stanley Cup is gone now, and so too goes the pressure to defend it.
The Blackhawks will be back next season, and it's not unfair to expect a longer playoff run.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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