- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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Bring them on, he said at the time.
We're not sure if seven games plus overtime is what he had in mind, but the smile on his face in a celebratory Vancouver Canucks dressing room Tuesday night still spelled sweet redemption.
"At the end of the day, after all is said and done, it's extra special with the history we have with these guys to get a little payback," said a smiling Kesler, who was dynamic in Tuesday night's 2-1 overtime thriller. "It definitely feels really good."
Oh, does it ever for the Presidents' Trophy winners. The province of British Columbia started breathing again just a few minutes past 10 p.m. PT when Alex Burrows blasted a knuckler over the right shoulder of sensational rookie goalie Corey Crawford. We're not sure which goal rocked this town more: the Golden Goal by Sidney Crosby for Team Canada in the 2010 Olympics or the Burrows Blast.
Losing to the Blackhawks for a third straight postseason would have been too much to take in a city that felt like a powder keg, ready to explode in either emotional extreme.
"It means a lot for this group, I think, and this city that we were able to do this," said Canucks star Daniel Sedin. "A lot of years you've seen teams crumbling under pressure and not being able to play their game, but we stuck with our game plan. I don't think they had any business being in a seventh game."
But the gutsy Hawks were indeed in a seventh game, fighting their way back from a 3-0 deficit and setting up a night of extraordinary playoff hockey.
Tuesday's script had several twists and turns. A goalie duel between the kid, Crawford, and the much-maligned veteran, Luongo. There was Captain Clutch, Jonathan Toews, who tied the score late in the third period with a shorthanded goal, no less. And there was Burrows, who missed a penalty shot in the third period and took a bad penalty early in overtime, but went from goat to hero in these parts with the overtime winner.
"Oh, it's great, a great feeling," Burrows said. "It felt almost like it was a dream, but guys jumped on me and I couldn't breathe, so I knew it was right."
There wouldn't have been a Burrows winner if Luongo hadn't absolutely stoned Patrick Sharp on the Hawks' overtime power play. Ridiculed by fans in Chicago and severely criticized by his own fans in Vancouver, Luongo entered Game 7 as the unquestionable X factor. But boy, did he deliver. He stopped 31 of 32 shots and exorcised some playoff demons against a team that owned him for 2½ series.
"In tough times, that's when you see the true character in somebody," Luongo said. "It was a big game in my career today."
Before overtime, Luongo said he thought back to the Olympics in 2010 and that overtime game against Team USA for good karma.
"It was almost an identical scenario," Luongo said. "I just remembered what it was like in the room. Both times it was quiet -- not a lot of guys said something. But the few words that were said were meaningful. 'Somebody's going to be a hero in here.' 'This is what legends are made of.' 'This is what it's all about'. 'Game 7, OT.' 'This is what we dream about as a kid.'
"'Someone is going to take the opportunity, become a hero.'"
Toews looked the part of a hero after he tied the game with just under two minutes left in the third period. "The legend just keeps growing," one thought. But for a young star who doesn't know a whole lot about losing -- he's won an Olympic gold medal, a World Junior gold, a world championship and, of course, a Stanley Cup -- the Hawks captain was none too familiar with the dreary emptiness in the visitors' dressing room Tuesday night.
"That's a tough one," Toews said. "We get a power play, get a couple of chances there, you're just kicking yourself for the opportunities you could have taken advantage of, especially when it comes down to one shot like that. It's seven games; who knows how far they're going to go or how far we could have gone? It's tough to swallow right now. Coming up a bit short is shocking and disappointing."
The Hawks have nothing to apologize for. They can head into the offseason with their heads held high. They gave the best team in the NHL absolutely everything they could handle and went out like true champions.
"We were up 3-0 against an eighth-seeded team, but that wasn't an eighth-seeded team we were playing," Kesler said. "They were injured for most of the year. They were the Stanley Cup champions. It took a lot for us to defeat them. They have a lot of character on that team."
With his pads still on for a good half hour after Burrows scored, Crawford sat slumped in his stall, wondering "what if." Hey kid, don't beat yourself up; you're the reason the Hawks even had a chance in Game 7 thanks to your 36 saves.
"I was just trying to keep us in it," Crawford said. "It's tough to lose. It was a good series. I don't think anybody would have thought we'd push it all the way to Game 7 in overtime. I still think we could have won that one. It's tough to swallow right now."
Well, Crawford now knows how the Hawks made the Canucks feel for two years in a row. And it was almost three in the most dramatic fashion possible. But it wasn't. The Canucks just couldn't let that happen this time.
"We were pretty frustrated with all the talk that they would beat us again this year," Daniel Sedin said. "We never had any doubt."
Bring on the Nashville Predators. But first, the Canucks may enjoy this one just a little bit.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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