Hockey Night In Canada Stanley Cup Playoffs 2011

Blackhawks pick up the tempo

Categories: Chicago Blackhawks, VAN vs. CHI, Vancouver Canucks

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Duncan Keith was one of a number of Chicago Blackhawks who kept Vancouver off balance in Game 4. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press) Duncan Keith was one of a number of Chicago Blackhawks who kept Vancouver off balance in Game 4. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)

If the Vancouver Canucks are game planning around Dave Bolland, they aren't tipping their hand.

Bolland played his first game in five weeks Tuesday and dominated Game 4. He gave the Hawks hope with a four-point night which included a goal. He also did a terrific job neutralizing the Sedin twins. Into the third period, the twins had combined for just one shot on net. They finished the game with one point, a goal in garbage time.

The Sedins have seen this before in the postseason. In 2007, they sagged badly when lined up against Anaheim Ducks centre Sami Pahlsson. In 2009 they struggled against Bolland. It was the same story in 2010 against Bolland, but only worse. They lost their composure.
Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa downplayed Bolland's impact.

"To tell you the truth I didn't really notice him that much, but I'm sure he had a good game," said Bieksa. "It doesn't change too much for us. It doesn't matter if he's in the lineup or Stan Mikita we still play the same way."

There are two clear things going for the Chicago Blackhawks in their mission to come back from a three games to none series deficit. One, they are the reigning champions. That has to count. They may be inconsistent, and have been all year.

But when they are cresting they can skate and play with any team in the NHL. Their stars are young and marvelous. Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith compare wonderfully to any top four in the league.

The group used their speed to back the Canucks defenders off the puck Tuesday. It created large gaps into the offensive zone, meaning Chicago did not have to dump pucks in. Vancouver gave up its blueline easily. Part of it was what the Hawks did, but there were also some sloppy Vancouver line changes..

"Obviously, we had issues last night with our gap control," head coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday. "Their overall speed and skill really challenged us in quite a few areas. A lot of that had to do with our changes."

Chicago has one more thing on its side. The Blackhawks are playing the Vancouver Canucks. In beating Vancouver in two previous years, several times Chicago got up early by two goals and then watched as the Canucks unraveled. It's what made Chicago's Game 4 win feel so familiar.

The most difficult game for Chicago will be the next one. If they can win Game 5, they get Game 6 at home. Toews said he expects his team will have to counter a vastly improved Vancouver effort.

"We know they're going to come back with a heckuva effort," he said. "We may have to weather a few storms. We played for each other and played hard [on Tuesday]. We do that and we've got that confidence that things can go our way."

The Canucks practised Wednesday but were without Henrik Sedin, Roberto Luongo and Alex Edler, who also chose not to participate in Tuesday's game day skate. There have been rumours Edler has an injury or maybe the flu, but Alain Vigneault said all his missing players are healthy.

Along with Edler, there's been concern about Roberto Luongo who wrenched, and twisted himself to make a save at the end of Tuesday's first period. At the time, he had let in one goal and was playing as well has he has in weeks. By the time he was pulled in the third period, he had let in six. He hadn't allowed more than three goals in a game since Jan. 18, a span of 36 games. That one went to overtime.

"He hasn't had any back-to-back bad games and you can't really say he had a bad game last night," Daniel Sedin said. "We gave up a lot of chances. He'll rebound, we'll rebound as a team and be better."

The biggest advantage for the Hawks in this series has been the number of power plays. They've had 19, the Canucks have had 10. The problem for Vancouver is that two of its most important penalty killers, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows, are also counted on to score goals. Neither has one.

"It is taxing at times," Kesler said Wednesday. "Bottom line, we obviously need to take less penalties. Killing penalties takes you out of the [offensive] game, for sure. I'm not going to comment on whether we're getting bad calls."