A few tee times had to be cancelled in Chicago on Tuesday night.
With their playoffs set to end before they even began, the defending champion Blackhawks pulled it together and proved — for the moment — that the Vancouver Canucks are a beatable team.
The Canucks spent the first three games of the series imposing their will. The loss of Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Ben Eager from last year’s Blackhawks squad that won the Stanley Cup was obvious. The Canucks showed no fear.
The Canucks still have a stranglehold on this series, but the 2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers proved that counting a team out in the new NHL is a dangerous thing to do.
There were two important factors in the Blackhawks victory in Game 4, and despite the final score, goaltending wasn’t one of them.
The Bolland factor
Dave Bolland returned with instantaneous impact. The Bolland line provided the much needed depth missing from the Blackhawks’ roster to this point. The depth players proved to be the deciding factor in previous years when they imposed their will on the Canucks.
Bolland and Michael Frolik created it Tuesday night. Bolland finished the night with four points and Frolik finished with three. In addition to the offensive output, the Bolland line held the Sedin twins to a combined one point and minus-7 rating. If Bolland isn’t quickly neutralized by the Canucks, these stats could easily be repeated, with the same results, in Game 5.
Another curse that appeared to have been cast into the wind by Game 4 was the physical dominance of the ‘Hawks. The Canucks, until Tuesday night, had dominated the physical play.
Through the first three games, the Canucks out-hit the ‘Hawks, 150-99. In Game 4, the ‘Hawks finished the game with a 44-33 edge in hits.
The Canucks started to show the wear and tear as the game wore on. The Blackhawks’ forecheck forced the Canucks into quick decisions. What has been a system of textbook breakouts throughout the season became slow and indecisive. In comparison, Chicago defensemen Brian Campbell and Duncan Keith dominated the ice each time they touched the puck.
Whether the incident that saw the Canucks’ Raffi Torres level Brent Seabrook with a shot to the head caused hesitation in Game 4 or not is up for debate. Whatever the case, the ‘Hawks players had time and space in all three zones, and it led to an offensive outburst.
Following a rout at the hands of the ‘Hawks, the mental toughness of the Canucks will truly be tested. As the game progressed, the Canucks bench went from an air of confidence to a sea of slumped shoulders.
Unlike any other series in the 2011 playoffs, this features a team that could lose on mental aspect alone. The mutual hatred is well documented and discussed in this series. Hatred is both the great motivator and potential destroyer in playoff hockey. To this point, the hatred has motivated the Canucks. Had Game 4 been a one or two-goal differential, there could be little doubt it would be brushed aside.
The sheer dominance shown by the ‘Hawks could easily turn a motivational hatred into a mental nightmare for the Canucks. The ‘Hawks still are an offensive threat, and Game 4 proved the threat has once again extended beyond Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp.
The missing piece until Tuesday night had been confidence. It’s safe to say the ‘Hawks have rediscovered it.
Game 5 is setting up to be a wild ride.