Well now here we are, with the Hawks merely needing to hold on to give themselves a chance of a break against Vancouver, which would lead to an entire city sinking into the Pacific.
But it won't be that easy. Tonight comes down to what the Canucks do and think. Do they come in playing as if this is quite enough of this silliness, and put an end to it? Or are they the unaccountable, cheap-shot taking, scared bunch they've been the past two games? No one has any answers. What they do know is that the longest two days of their lives await them at home if a Game 7 is forced. Canucks fans are already turning the entire Province into an Asylum, and if they were even on the edge of this team-wide vomit of historic proportions, they're going to hear about it. Do they respond to that with the needed desperation we saw in Games 1-3 and do what they need to do on the ice? Or does that looming prospect of doom send them into their panicky, less than intelligent shell? Again, no one has an answer for this. The Vancouver teams of past years would certainly fold. This one spent the entire season and the early part of this series trying to convince us it was different, and successfully so. But now?
As for what they will do physically, there's been some talk that the Canucks are really going to tighten it up defensively tonight. They'll clog the neutral zone, continually dumping pucks into the Hawks' zone and only sending one forechecker. This will prevent the Hawks from gathering any flow or rhythm through center ice, and that's when the Hawks struggle. They aren't built for a taffy-pull, which is what the Canucks just might consider doing. It's the system the Canucks employed not so long ago, and have used at the United Center before.
But one wonders if they will. They haven't played that style this year at all. And they're built to score. This is a fast, skilled team. It's not that they want to get in a shoot 'em up with the Hawks, but to try and trap this down and make it an ugly game for all (though anything that has Bieksa's face in it is an ugly game) isn't what the Canucks do best anymore.
Whichever system they go with, they will be conservative in the beginning. If the Hawks score early and the UC starts to shake violently, it's going to be a serious test of the Canucks' mettle, and that's a test they've failed several times. We already know they're antsy, and the confidence can't be too high. They need to find their legs, and they can only do that by being in the game for longer and longer. The longer it goes either tied or with the Canucks leading, the more they'll relax and believe.
So it is incumbent upon the Hawks to come out flying. No, they won't get to have the orgy of speed and fun through center ice as they've had the past two games, at least to start. They're going to have to just get the puck deep, and then make some boards rattle when they do. Keep the crowd in it, count on the Canucks making some mistakes, which they will, and be ruthless when they do.
It is not the first goal that's important tonight, it is the second. If it's the Hawks going up 2-0, this thing very well might be over with a folding opponent. If it's the Canucks going up 2-0, their nervousness vanishes. If it's a tying goal, the Hawks will still be at home with all the momentum from the two games against a still-edgy opponent.
Who's ready for this ride?