What a difference a year makes. The Canucks imploded against the Hawks last year in the playoffs. And, it seemed it could happen again - as late as Burrows' missed penalty shot in the 3rd period of Game 7 or his penalty in OT. But, the Canucks were able to overcome their archenemy; the team which many Canadians believe has kept Vancouver from winning the Cup.
The biggest differences in this matchup from last year were:
a) The Canucks were able to find the balance between aggressive and under control.
b) The Hawks made too many mistakes including Campoli's giveaway to Burrows for the game winning goal
c) Luongo survived Game 7 (I'll write about this in separate post)
If you remember in the 2010 playoffs a big part of the Canucks implosion was their inability to stay out of the penalty box. They played with great intensity but could not manage it. This year Vancouver did a much better job of being intense and under control. They put themselves in fewer bad spots (well, except for the penalty in OT), and when they did they played with composure. I give a lot of credit to the coaching staff and the team. Their Game 7 approach was excellent. Play with intensity and be the aggressor. Don't sit back and hope the Hawks give it to you. This took the pressure off of Luongo and let him settle in to the game.
Defenseman Alex Edler was outstanding as usual. He exemplified the game the Canucks wanted to play in Game 7 after losing 3 straight. Hard, physical, fast, composed, confident. Edler drilled a number of Hawks forwards without taking a penalty. In fact, the Edler, Kesler, and the Canucks set the tempo early with their intensity and fast play. The Hawks responded, but for the most part the Canucks were the better team.
Chicago played desperate the last week and you have to give them credit for bringing from 0-3 to Game 7. However, they made far too many mistakes and it was not just their young players that were responsible. Veterans like Seabrook and Campoli were turning the puck over. Keith even had some bumps early in the series. Corey Crawford was outstanding in Game 7 and really kept the Hawks in it. Without Crawford playing lights out the Canucks skate away with Game 7 and Toews unbelievable effort to tie the game shorthanded is not a GTG and an afterthought.
How about Toews? Shut down by Kesler for almost 7 games and he scores shorthanded with less than 2 minutes left in the game to tie it. The MVP from the Vancouver Games almost singlehandedly gave his home country Canada a collective coronary.
I also got to write that Ryan Kesler was better in Game 7, but I think the media were off when criticizing him for not scoring. When your task is to eliminate Toews you have your hands full. Offense becomes a secondary thought. Kesler was outstanding in Game 7. He was physical and set up the first goal. Look for Kelser to score more in the second round.
So, the final thoughts on this epic first round series between Vancouver and Chicago is that the Canucks were able to overcome the defending champs best effort. This should provide the boost the Canucks need to play with confidence, composure and intensity in the conference semis. On the other hand, Chicago has to look at why they were unable to play with consistency throughout 2010-11 and fix it for next season.