Dan Hamhuis #2 of the Vancouver Canucks gets his stick high on Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks while battling for the loose puck during the third period in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 13, 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Game 7. That's really all that needs to be said.
But the editors at NBC ask me to write more than that, so I will.
It's pretty hard not to descend into cliche when talking about a Game 7. After all, there's no secret tactic or move to be made at this point. Both teams have laid out what they are and what they are capable of in the preceding six games. Now it's just a matter of who executes that better. It's not about getting this matchup or attacking that facet . You know that stuff already.
So does it come down to what's between the ears, and probably between the legs? Yeah, pretty much that's it. And there's only one team tonight who has proven they respond to that sort of situation: The Hawks.
Lacking the mettle, Vancouver should have a simple gameplan. Just play Game 6 over again. They were excellent, and it very well may have been their best game of the series. Just lost a coin flip.
If they play that assuredly, that disciplined, with that killer instinct that they should have no problems with closing out a tough first round.
But can they? They'll be in front of a crowd that will have chewed their fingers down to the first joint by the time they hit the ice for warmups. They have an entire city's press corps, perhaps an entire country's, with knives unsheathed waiting for the plunge. They've burned every inch of the cushion they gave themselves and now are staring face to face with the black army of the greatest collapse the sport has seen. Yes, No. 8 seeds have beaten No. 1 seeds before, yes the Canadiens came back from the 3-1 down to topple the President's Trophy winners in last year's first round. But none of them coughed up the lung of a 3-0 lead.
And where do they go now? They played their backup goalie card, killed the starter's confidence and no the backup is out. Their starting goalie, the one they pay $10 million this year, by the by, was quoted in the press yesterday as saying Cory Schneider was just as good and he didn't care which one of them started. $10 million, let me say that again. He's one goal away from watching his brain melt out of his head, and due to Schneider's injury there is no safety net if that happens.
What happens if the Hawks score first, and the impossible becomes a distinct possibility? Can a team that has completely unraveled the past two springs correct that. Look at the elimination games of the past couple years. In 2009 the Canucks gave up seven goals after taking the lead three times (a feat they matched on Sunday). Last year they played a great game-5, and then got mauled at home in Game-6 where they couldn't stop taking penalties and Luongo couldn't stop a deflated beachball.
As for the Hawks, they've ridden the no-pressure amusement park ride this far, but it's probably not available tonight. They're even, with just as much chance to win the series. Sure, they're still not favored, and they're not playing in front of a crowd that had to have its pitchforks and torches checked at the gate. But they've got all the momentum, have a chance at history, they can't simply snuff it and say, "Well, we got this far." You're here now, you close this out.
For the neutral, this might be the most fascinating game on the calendar. For the passionate it's going to be torture. Can't wait.
Sam Fels is the proprietor of The Committed Indian, an unofficial program for the Blackhawks. You may have seen him hocking the magazine outside the United Center at Gate 3. The program is also available for purchase online. Fels is a lifelong 'Hawks fan and he also writes for Second City Hockey .