History in the Making II?
Surely, it's not possible.
Not two years in a row. Not to these Vancouver Canucks.
Well, maybe it is possible. But my oh my, if the Canucks choke away this entire Western Conference series to the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, it would be a collapse that would dwarf last year's Eastern Conference series in which the Boston Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead and lost to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Why? Well, because Vancouver was the NHL's best team during the regular season, and because in the first 2 1/2 games of this series they seemed to make a convincing statement that their historic problems with the Hawks were all a thing of the past.
But at 12:14 of the second period of Game 3, with the Canucks leading 2-1, it all changed. It all changed apparently when Raffi Torres blindsided Chicago blueliner Brent Seabrook with a dirty head shot that was penalized (interference) and should have been a suspendable offence. The NHL, however, in its infinite wisdom, produced a dubious legislative loophole for Torres, a serial headhunter, and that glaring injustice seems to have produced a purpose for the Hawks.
Since Torres' hit, they've outscored the Canucks 13-3 and routed them in Games 4 and 5, setting up a highly emotional Game 6 at the United Centre on Sunday with the Hawks, in the words of captain Jonathon Toews, having demonstrated quite vividly that the Canucks aren't nearly as good a team as they've been given credit for.
The degree of Chicago dominance in the past two games is what has been really stunning. The champs haven't squeaked out a couple of wins. They've run roughshod over the Canucks, and almost toyed with Vancouver Thursday night in an easy 5-0 romp.
Vancouver starting goalie Roberto Luongo was excellent in Game 1, mediocre in Game 2, solid in Game 3 and now dreadful in Games 4 and 5, allowing 10 goals on the last 40 shots he has faced. He was yanked in front of his home crowd in Game 5, and head coach Alain Vigneault has a decision to make as to whether to give youngster Cory Schneider a shot in Game 6.
It would be a big gamble, and it appears Vigneault won't give it more than a moment's consideration. After Game 5, he told the press that Luongo would start Game 6, and Luongo himself showed enormous class by not hiding from the tough questions after the ugly loss.
That said, the United Centre has been Luongo's personal House of Horrors, and were he to fumble away the sixth game, it would really put the Canucks in a bind for Game 7 on home ice. But if Schneider were to start Game 6, Vigneault could always come back with Luongo if necessary for Game 7.
While the Torres hit seems to have produced an emotional rallying cry for the Hawks, the return of David Bolland to bother the Sedins has been a big factor in the past two games, as has the brilliant play of 2010 Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, unfazed by the absence of his concussed partner, Seabrook.
Both Daniel and Henrik Sedin were silent in Game 5. Meanwhile, neither Ryan Kesler nor Alex Burrows has scored in the series, and the Chicago power play has torn Vancouver's penalty killing brigade to shreds. The Hawks killed off an early minor to Brian Campbell in Game 5 and then quickly built a 3-0 lead that would be more than enough.
Vancouver seemed shellshocked from that point onwards, and at the bare minimum, they've got to recapture some sense of passion and energy before Game 6 if they want to avoid returning home for what would be a pressure cooker in Vancouver.
It was less than two weeks ago that the Hawks lost to Detroit and needed a Minnesota upset over Dallas on the final day of the season just to get into the Stanley Cup tournament. For the first two games against Vancouver, they seemed almost embarrassed to have been caught backing into the post-season, but in Games 4 and 5 they've looked more like champions and less like a team that had half of its roster deleted through salary cap considerations in the summer. Toews leadership has been a beacon for the rest of the Hawks.
After three games, it seemed nearly certain the Chicago season was over. But they've started down a remarkable comeback trail, or at least one that will be remarkable if it includes two more wins. Philly did it last year, a playoff season in which Montreal also fought back from a 3-1 deficit to upset Washington. This spring, the Bruins have battled their way back into their series with the Habs after losing the first two games on home ice, and now, lo and behold, the Hawks have turned the Lower Mainland into a trembling landscape of doubt.
Could the Torres hit somehow have done this much damage to his own team by offending and thus awakening the champions?
Something certainly changed in this series, and dramatically so. If the Canucks can't find a way to change it back again, it will be a B.C. sporting catastrophe that will be talked about for decades.