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Canucks Gameday: No Time Like The Present


TheCanuckleheads.ca

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If you're a pool player, you know that your first shot on the 8-ball is usually your best chance to finish the game. It may not be an easy shot, but it somehow gets harder to sink if you miss that first opportunity to put your opponent away. As the Canucks head into Game 5 against the Sharks, it's the third straight series they've had the chance to wrap things up on home ice. While there's no need to dwell on Round 1, the breakdown against the Hawks began with a lacklustre effort in Game 4 that ended 7-2, turning the momentum in Chicago's favour. Since Vancouver had been leading 3-0, you figured one bad loss was no big deal; they'll finish things on home ice in Game 5. But after a 5-0 no-show to make the series 3-2, Vancouver suddenly had a series on their hands and it took tremendous fortitude to salvage their season in overtime of Game 7.

In Game 5 against Nashville, with the Canucks up 3 games to 1, the 4-3 loss was nothing to hang your head about, but it forced the team to travel back to Nashville where they played a solid Game 6, winning 2-1 in one of their cleanest defensive performances of the playoffs.

Of course, elimination games are generally the hardest to win because most teams bring more urgency and desperation with their season on the line. And the way momentum has turned in several playoff series the last two years (Philly's historic comeback against Boston last year; Chicago and Detroit both forcing a Game 7 this year despite being down 3-0), you just never know what could happen if you let the first opportunity to punch your ticket to the Stanley Cup pass you by.

This is why you hear so many Canucks talking about playing Game 5 "like it's a Game 7″. The coaching staff clearly wants every player to manufacture the same level of urgency and focus San Jose will play with. This is also why Christian Ehrhoff may play even if his shoulder is still a little tender. Vancouver's had some practice with Game 5s, and you'd hope that after a monumental all-around effort in Game 4 to put San Jose on the brink of elimination, they'll be able to bury the Sharks on home ice so the raucous crowd can celebrate a third trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in their 40-year history.

At this point in the series, there are no secrets between the two teams. If Vancouver stays disciplined, Luongo stands tall, and the Canuck forwards challenge the Sharks' defense with speed, they should be in good shape. But if San Jose creates turnovers down low the way they did in Game 3, they play a great half-court game. Their forwards are big and skilled enough to draw penalties and create scoring chances in bunches.

So far, Henrik Sedin (1G, 9A), Daniel Sedin (2G, 3A) and Kevin Bieksa (3G, 1A) have been the key play-makers for the Canucks, while Patrick Marleau (4G, 2A), Joe Thornton (1G, 5A), and Dan Boyle (1G, 3A) have been the most dangerous Sharks. But tonight there's the Thornton question mark. He'll play, but how well? His toughness has been questioned in the past, and you can bet Vancouver will test out that right shoulder of his. It will be interesting to see if he passes the puck quickly instead of holding on to it and fending off defenders the way he usually does. Obviously, he's the key guy in the offensive zone—creating space, using his reach and big frame to protect the puck, and then centring it for one-timers or into the crease for wild goal-mouth scrambles.

For the Canucks, though, Thornton doesn't really matter. There's no need to focus too much attention on him. They've proven to be a dynamic team that can win any style of game. And tonight's game should be a beauty.

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