Canucks control pace in Game 5
CHICAGO -- The Vancouver Canucks shifted down gears on their Ferrari offense Sunday night and played a near-perfect road game in order to bring the series back home.
Chicago Blackhawks fans were expecting a series wrap, but the Canucks ruined the party at the United Center with a 4-1 Game 5 victory that cut Vancouver's deficit to 3-2, a defensive gem that marked a serious shift in which these two teams had previously played in this series.
"Sometimes when all the chips are on the line, you tend to be a little more careful," said Canucks star goalie Roberto Luongo, who stopped 29 of 30 shots. "You don't want to make a huge mistake that costs you the game. Whatever it was, it worked for us tonight."
Remember when we told you this series would be played at 100 mph? Well, the Canucks put a stop to the track meet, perhaps deciding that going end-to-end with Chicago's speedsters was a losing proposition.
"From the pace of the games we played up there in Vancouver, it was definitely a slower game tonight," said Blackhawks veteran center John Madden. "I think some of that had to do with them scoring some quick ones. They then sat back and chipped away."
So, just like they attempted to do in last season's second-round clash, the Canucks slowed down the pace with an effective forecheck on the Hawks' back line, which hampered the Chicago blue line's ability to move the puck. Vancouver backed that up with a patient approach in the neutral zone that seemed to be an effective tonic against a Hawks team that struggled with the tactic in the first round against Nashville.
Having to chip in the puck against a trapping team drives these skilled Hawks players crazy. They want to rock and roll, not waltz.
"When we played Nashville, they had three across the line consistently and had backside pressure and tried to frustrate us in the neutral zone," said Madden, a former New Jersey Devil who specialized in doing that to other teams. "It's no secret that our game is poke-and-go, we're always on the move, it's puck possession. Tonight, they didn't allow us to do that. They did a good job with backside pressure with three men across. It forced us to chip, which, unfortunately, we didn't do enough.
"It's a learning process and we'll do our homework and figure something out for next game."
Having said all that, let's not forget the other contributing factor to Sunday's win by the Canucks. The captain and franchise goalie, Luongo, rebounded nicely from a midseries disaster with a confident showing Sunday. His rebound control was immaculate, as was his positioning. This was the Luongo of Games 1 and 2.
"Without a doubt, Roberto is such a big part of our team that when he's on top of his game and in control, everybody feeds off that," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. "That's good for the team's confidence. We needed him to come out tonight and play a big game."
Your leaders need to set the example in times of duress, so chalk one up for the beardless Luongo (he shaved his "playoff beard" after Game 4, despite the long-standing postseason tradition). He gave his team the kind of performance that allows a bench to breathe and believe again.
"It's a team game, we all had to step up, that's the bottom line," said Luongo, deflecting away a question aimed at his personal bounce-back performance. "We're not going to get this done by one guy stepping up. We need 20 guys in here having a huge game and that's what we did."
Having as many skaters on the ice as the Blackhawks was also an interesting twist for the Canucks, who redefined stupidity with their undisciplined play and conga line to the penalty box in Games 3 and 4. In Game 5, they handed Chicago only four power plays, while enjoying six of their own.
When the Canucks are playing five-on-five hockey with the Hawks, they're a pretty darn good team. They've got to turn the cheek again Tuesday night at GM Place in order to have a shot at extending the series to seven games.
"The two games in Vancouver, obviously there were situations where our emotion got the best of us," said Vigneault. "We've got a smart group. We might not have shown that the proper way those two games. I think tonight we did."
Perhaps the road is the perfect place for the Blackhawks to wrap this up. The visitors are now 4-1 in this second-round series, as the home team is seemingly too caught up in trying to give the fans a show instead of focusing on the game plan.
"Home-ice advantage, I don't know what it means anymore," said Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa. "You go on the road and you have maybe a different mentality of weathering storms and simplifying your game and maybe that benefits [road] teams."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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