It was as if the Chicago Blackhawks entered Rogers Arena Thursday night and played a Jedi mind trick instead of a playoff game.
102 decibels of Canuck pride quickly turned to gasps and groans as the ‘Hawks poured in three first period goals en route to a decisive 5-0 Game 5 victory over a listless and bewildered Vancouver team.
The Canucks now hold a 3-2 series advantage, but after being outscored 12-2 in the past two games – it appears the Blackhawks are back in their heads.
Not so, says goaltender Roberto Luongo.
“It’s four-out-of-seven. We’re a group that’s been through a lot. We know how to address certain things,” said Luongo post-game. “After three games you would have thought we were in their heads. Now it’s suddenly 3-2 and people suggest the opposite.”
And while Luongo is usually the first Canuck to take the heat for a meltdown, there is plenty of blame to go around.
“Everyone can do more. I can do better and each and every one of our players can do better,” Canucks Coach Alain Vigneault said.
The Canucks now suddenly face a Chicago team hell-bent on pulling off possibly the greatest upset in NHL playoff history. Only three teams – including last year’s Flyers – have come back from 3-0 down to win a series.
And with a trip back to the Madhouse for Game 6 Sunday, the prospect of a pressure-packed seventh game looms large if Vancouver cannot exorcise its demons.
“This is a mentally strong team and it has been all season long,” said Canuck defenseman Kevin Bieksa. “We have dealt with some adversity in the past and certainly this will be one of our biggest challenges. Next game we have to look ourselves in the mirror and bring our best game in Chicago.”
The Blackhawks are finally looking like the defending Stanley Cup Champions, even without star defenseman Brent Seabrook. Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa have now found the net, and defenseman Duncan Keith – who has four goals already – just seems to be warming up.
And while Vancouver now has two days to cool off and refocus, they face a defining moment in their tenure as a team.
This Canucks team – led by the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, and Luongo – can win one of the next two games and learn from the experience. Vigneault would finally out-coach Joel Quenneville and the Canucks would have battled through the kind of adversity needed to galvanize this first-place team for a long play-off run, and possibly a Stanley Cup.
Let us not consider the alternative.