Hawks breathe new life into series
CHICAGO -- The commissioner chose a heck of a night to see his product in person.
Gary Bettman didn't need to spin this baby. The Chicago Blackhawks' 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night provided a thrill a minute. And take it from a hockey writer who has witnessed 10 different teams in six different rinks so far in these playoffs: This was the game of the spring so far.
"It was a great pace, it was a great game, the building was alive, it was a lot of fun. I think everybody in the stands had a treat tonight," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. "Both teams are very respectful for the pace and the speed that's on the ice every shift and the danger and the threat of all the offensive players."
This was the spectacle we figured we might get before Saturday night's 5-1 clunker. But perhaps Game 2 showed us what we're in store for: a 100 mph pace that leaves you gasping for air in the press box.
"Vancouver is a very talented team, they've got lots of speed, as do we," said Hawks blueliner Brent Seabrook, who had a monster game. "Their D likes to jump up, our D likes to jump up. It makes for an interesting series and a fast series and an action-packed one."
Throw in some big hits and a little hatred -- a carryover from last spring's second-round series -- and you've got the full package. Inserting Ben Eager and Adam Burish into the Hawks' lineup Monday night seemed to ignite the sparks between the two teams.
"It's going to be a fun series," said Hawks forward Patrick Sharp, whose short-handed goal 6:49 into the third period tied the game. "I think you saw both sides talking a bit more, a few more scrums after the whistle. It's obvious the two teams don't like each other. But at the end of the day, we have respect for each other and it's pretty exciting hockey."
Of course, for this to have the chance to become a great series, the Blackhawks needed to make it one Monday night. They rallied back from an early 2-0 deficit and Kris Versteeg erased what had been a forgettable night in his case (on one shift alone, he completed the trifecta of giving the puck away, falling down and taking a penalty), rifling home the winner from the left faceoff dot over an outstretched Roberto Luongo with 1:30 remaining in the third period.
Biggest goal of his career?
"For sure," said Versteeg, who tallied his first goal of the playoffs. "It feels pretty good, and hopefully we can keep rolling off it."
On the play, Versteeg actually fumbled his first scoring chance, but the puck found its way back to him after a scrum.
"I was going to shoot it [the first time] and there was four bodies there, so I thought I'd shoot it to the other side and faked myself out," Versteeg said. "I wasn't too happy because I thought I threw it away, but the puck came back to me and I just shot it."
And the United Center rocked like few buildings in this league can. But two and a half periods earlier the arena was quiet, and somewhat stunned again, when Mikael Samuelsson gave the Canucks a 2-0 lead on a 5-on-3 power play. At that point, the Canucks were outscoring the Blackhawks 7-1 in the series and looking like they'd go up 2-0 in the second round.
"We're thinking, 'Holy crap, this is going on again,'" Versteeg said. "After we made it 2-1, we had the momentum going our way again."
Seabrook's goal at 7:40 of the first period seemed to relax the Blackhawks, who were feeling the pressure to deliver. It also must have felt good for them to get one by Luongo, who was terrific again in Game 2.
"Getting that first goal reminded us that we can score on this guy," Seabrook said.
Thing is, the Canucks could have led 4-0 or 5-0 early on had it not been for rookie Hawks goalie Antti Niemi, who once again showed his uncanny ability to rebound from so-so performances with big games.
"He kept us in it when we were chopping the puck up into pieces the first couple minutes of the game there," Sharp said.
Niemi's bounce-back outing and confidence were almost as big as the win itself. The Hawks aren't going anywhere if the Finnish netminder can't answer the bell.
What now? The Canucks have the road split they wanted and head home to what will be a raucous GM Place on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks are re-energized. Don't miss a beat of this series, folks; it's shaping up to be a dandy.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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