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Review: Round 1 Van vs. Chi a.k.a. "the best series ever"



Here's my review on that great series that had me glued in front of my TV-set for over two weeks.

1. On the ice

We saw 7 games with very distinctive outcomes and styles of play. Game one was all about determination: The Hawks were still shocked that they actually made the playoffs after their loss in the final game of the regular season. The Canucks used their drive from a very successful regular season and managed a deserved win with a great Luongo, silent twins and secondary scoring by Higgins and Hansen early on. The only thing I did not like about game one was our failure to secure the game more early by shooting a third goal and releasing the pressure a little bit.

Game two was somehow similar to game one, but the Hawks seemed to bounce back from their apparent paralysis and showed more determination. Luongo was for the first time confronted with screens and traffic in front of the crease. Hansen got the early goal in the first and Daniel added the second goal at a crucial point: 30 seconds into the 2nd period. It seemed to go south for Chicago quickly, but it didn't. A nobody named Ben Smith destroyed Luongo's shutout streak and brought life back to Chicago who wanted to win really bad from that time on. Edler gave Chicago a Chelsea Dagger to the heart with his hammer only 14 seconds before the final intermission. In the third period, the Canucks were shaky for the first time. Luongo lost his calmness a little, and, consequently, had to surrender to Hawks goals twice in that period. At least Daniel scored once more, so that Vancouver nursed a one-goal-lead late in the game. They managed to keep away Chicago from the net as often as possible and brought game two home.

Game three was one of three games in that series I will never forget. Chicago gained some inspiration by a loud hometown crowd and desperately wanted to bounce back. The great defender and my fellow German Christian Ehrhoff scored in the very first seconds of our first powerplay in the second period and equalized the Chicago lead from the first period. Chicago got some questionable powerplays (4 in the first period, none for Vancouver), but scored only once (no goal for them on a very long 5 on 3). After Ehrhoff's goal it was Daniel who gave Vancouver the lead. We seemed in command from that point on, but Raffi Torres finished a devastating hit on Seabrook, reviving the Chicago crowd and resulting in a powerplay goal by the Hawks. But Vancouver didn't want any doubts about who was going to win in that night: In the third period, Samuelsson's first playoff goal that season gave us a 3-2 lead we kept until the final horn. The series seemed to be decided.

Game four was on equal terms until the second period, when a 1-1 suddenly turned into a 5-1 lead for Chicago. We had nobody but ourselves to blame. The final outcome of 7-2 did not really matter anymore. The series was now a 3-1, but no real danger for us, eh?

Game five was the only time I was really mad at our team: A gutless performance without heart and determination, no respect for Chicago's strengths whatsoever. No need to analyze that one. It was bad hockey and Chicago played its best hockey. The fear was back: Could we beat that time for once and for all?

Game six was a blockbuster of the highest standards and one of the three great games in that series. It was a hard-fought back-and-forth with great goals, great checks and Vancouver back on the track of serious post-season hockey. The 2-1 lead with goals from Daniel Sedin and Burrows after the first period made us look really good, but Chicago equalized it to 2-2 in the second period. Some very questionable calls against us made things even worse. Bieksa's early goal in the third period did not pay off after a converted penalty shot for Frolik. We even lost our goaltender Cory Schneider who was great for most of the game, well, except of his performance behind the net, which was one reason for one of the Hawks' goals (the hit against the Canucks' defender did not get called, but that could not surprise me anymore). So, Luongo came into the game and did not have to do a lot. The overtime was all Vancouver: Shot over shot was fired on Crawford's net, but the young goalie showed a great performance and bailed the Hawks out again and again. Luongo was the goalie who got beat on a funny goal after 15 minutes in overtime. A nerve-wrecking game came to an undeserved end, the series was tied again. The doubts got stronger.

What we saw today in Game seven was nothing short of an all-time-classic. The Canucks were determined to not let it slip again and made an early statement with a goal by Burrows. Vancouver checked the hell out of the Hawks who seemed tired sometimes, but could count on their great goalie and refused to ever give up. Vancouver was so close to a second goals for so many times, it made me despair a little bit. But they sticked to their game and were rewarded with a penalty shot for Burrows early in the third period. Unfortunately, Crawford was unbeatable on that one. I nearly collapsed when Henrik decided to pass, instead of shooting on a great opportunity half way through the third. But with three minutes remaining, a gift from heaven was awarded to us: Powerplay! The Canucks decided to not go for it and let the time run on. And suddenly, Luongo had to look behind him: A shorthander for Chicago with little more than a minute left to play... We seemed doomed, even more so, when Burrows was penalized in OT. But it was that one Burrows who got the series winning goal on a great individual play after 5 minutes in OT.

2. The media

I watch the games via ESPN America. I have no influence on whether the CBC or Versus get streamed over to Europe, and chances are 50/50 to get the CBC stream. While I still think that Jim Hughson is the best play-by-play commentator in the game, I have to say that I can somehow understand the CBC-bashing which is going on on canucks.com. Ron MacLean demanded a suspension for Torres during a lengthy segment in an intermission report, Craig Simpson does not seem to like the Canucks and mostly demands calls against us, instead of the other team. Yet, there is no better way to learn about the line juggling and tactical finesses of the coaches than watching the game on CBC. Versus failed in that category.

Versus has improved a lot, I have to say. Their play-by-play is decent, their scoreboard on top of the screen is way better than CBC's (which didn't even show a proper penalty clock in game 3) and their intermission panel does not seem to be too American-biased. What I missed were these great opening videos CBC has for every game. The HD-quality is basically the same. But I have to say that ESPN has issues with the transmission over the Atlantic sometimes, which may result in a worse-than-HD quality.

3. The fans

The support for the Canucks is huge! The city loves its team, and the passion for hockey is omni-present. Yet, the arena was too quiet in games 1 and 2. Too many black suits with blackberrys, too many passionate fans who don't have enough money to purchase playoff-tickets. It was different in game 7: The arena was loud from start to finish. This is the performance our team needs. You can do it, Vancouver!

4. The referees

Nothing bad to say about the first two games: A lot of 5 on 5 with occasional powerplays when they were obvious.

In game 3 and 4, the officiating was brutal. Very few calls in our favor, a lot of them against us. Game 5 was decided too early to tell, while game 6 seemed biased against us again. Today, everything looked okay. The penalty against Burrows in OT was the only debatable call, considering the situation.

5. The opponent

Chicago may have sneaked into this year's playoffs, but they are still the Champions, and now we know why. I have high respect for their performance.

The fans are a different story: "You only sing when you're winning" is their motto, and the Mad House was just not as mad as we thought. What really got my attention was this anthem-singer: He did a very poor job, and only the fans' enthusiastic chanting could save the moment. "Chelsea Dagger" has also lost its terror on us. I did not care too much about it that year.

6. Nashville?

To be honest, I don't know much about them. It's one of those teams you seem to forget they even exist. Then you read through their roster and realize: "Wow, what a great team!" Shea Weber, Mr. Underwood, Pekka Rinne, Dumont, Shane O'Brien. We should be able to do this in less than 7 games. A few days off would be useful when we face the inevitable Red Wings. But one step at a time. It won't be easy!


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