Hawks may have Canucks by throat

Updated 4/24/2011 11:20 PM

Historically speaking, the Blackhawks have put Team Choke on the verge of a spectacular gag.

Stay thirsty, my Vancouver friends.

Not even the Canucks seemed capable after three games of being only the fourth team in NHL history to cough up a 3-0 lead and lose a series, but these mental misfits have allowed the Stanley Cup champs to recover the entire deficit, and the Hawks have an opportunity Tuesday night to send the Canucks home with the ultimate humiliation.

The Hawks did it Sunday night at the UC mostly against a backup goalie, after they chased Vancouver's $10 million starter to the bench.

Well, not exactly to the bench.

Roberto Luongo didn't have the fortitude to sit in the arena and face the Chicago fans one last time, choosing instead to stay isolated in the Canucks' dressing room until Cory Schneider cramped up after the tying goal and Luongo was forced to show his face in the third period.

"Coach (Joel Quenneville) was all over it right away, that the goalie was hurt and Luongo was coming in," said Bryan Bickell. "But they're very similar goalies so we didn't think it was much of a change for us. We just had to keep doing what we were doing."

And fittingly, it was Luongo doing what he always does when the pressure's on, which is give up a monster rebound to lose a game.

After Marian Hossa, quiet the entire night, made a fabulous play to walk off the boards and feed Niklas Hjalmarsson at the point, "The Waiter" served up a beauty, boxing a puck out front for Ben Smith, who chipped home a backhand for the game-winner.

"Biggest goal of the year, obviously, because we win or go home,'' Bickell said. "We're just having a blast. We're having fun playing hockey. There's no pressure at all. We just want to keep playing hockey because it's fun."

Having the most fun might be Corey Crawford, who was brilliant the last two periods as the Canucks carried the play, skating with desperation in hopes of avoiding a Game 7.

"He's really impressive," said Duncan Keith of Crawford. "He's really calm on the ice and just as calm in the room off the ice. He gives the team a lot of confidence."

The same can't possibly be said of Luongo.

"I just went with my gut," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, who apparently was talking about his goaltending decision and not his nausea following the 4-3 loss at the UC Sunday night. "All year long we went with two goaltenders."

Yeah, but one makes $10 million, and Vigneault insisted Thursday that Luongo would start Sunday.

So now who gets the start Tuesday?

"If I tell you," Vigneault said, "you gonna believe me now?"

No, but a lot of us didn't believe you Thursday.

How could Luongo possibly get that start Sunday when he was so unbelievably bad the last two games?

"On Friday on the way down, I started thinking about it," Vigneault said. "I just went with my gut."

Yeah, I'd stay away from the Canucks' guts, but they've shown such a lack of them over the years that it's hard to imagine them playing better Tuesday than they did Sunday.

They are on the verge of making history, Vancouver style.

"I think," Vigneault said, "we played our best game of the series tonight."

And they lost, despite such inspiration, while the Hawks' final two periods Sunday were their worst since the first period of the series.

And they won.

"It's really fun playing hockey again," said captain Jonathan Toews, grinning from ear to ear. "I can't wait to play another game."

You wonder if the Vancouver Canucks feel the same way.


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