The signs were everywhere prior to Game 4 that the Canucks were going to try to impose a physical game on the Blackhawks. They succeeded at that; the problem was, a majority of their physicality was illegal.
I've watched a lot of hockey, including 92 Hawks games this year from start to finish, and I've never seen anything as pathetic as what the Canucks put on display in Game 4, especially during the second period. The Canucks took dives, gave cheap shots after the whistle, and talked trash all night. The Hawks responded by hitting them where it hurts the most: on the scoreboard. Taking the Canucks' dirty play into account, tonight may have been the sweetest victory of the season thus far.
But it was also infuriating at times.
Dustin Byfuglien ended several shifts by taking a stick to the face or the back of the neck. The slow, talentless hack defenseman Shane O'Brien cross-checked TWICE early in the first period, and Alex Burrows continued to insult the game of hockey with his gutless shenanigans.
Burrows earned a misconduct in the final five minutes of Game 3, which should have resulted in a suspension from the next game. For whatever reason, the NHL let Burrows play in Game 4, and his antics were even more ridiculous. During a sequence in the 2nd period, Dustin Byfuglien was on all fours in the Vancouver crease, and Burrows cross-checked Byfuglien in the head/neck area multiple times. The guy scores three goals on you, so you try to seriously injure him in the following game? Classy. That's about as manly as pulling hair during a fight. See what I did there?
Even Daniel Sedin got in on the act. Sedin was too busy talking trash after the whistle and sitting in the penalty box to realize his team was about to go down 3-1 in the series.
The Canucks complained between Games 3 and 4 about the Hawks getting away with things and spending too much time near the Vancouver net. They vowed to "bring the same mentality" to Game 4 but to stay under control and out of the penalty box. Well, nice try Vancouver, but your effort on Friday was the worst display of control and composure since McLovin lost his virginity.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault should share some responsibility for the Canucks' downfall in the past three games. Aside from being completely out-coached by Quenneville when it comes to matchups and strategy (much like last year's series), he also seemed to sit back and watch as his team gooned it up in the 2nd period. If he's going to preach that his team needs to remain composed and stay out of the box, then he needs to make sure they don't blatantly do the exact opposite. As it stands, whether it is his fault or not, his team is making him look bad. However, his postgame comment about Roberto Luongo being "the second best goaltender on the ice" was spot on.
As for our Hawks, they played yet another wonderful hockey game in all three zones. Antti Niemi was solid despite the four goals against, and made the saves he needed to make. Most importantly, Niemi didn't allow the Canucks' new net-charging strategy to phase him. Byfuglien was a presence once again, drawing attention to himself and away from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
Toews, of course, had a hat trick and two assists in the game, and played probably the best game of his career, and certainly his best since the Olympics. His five points tied Stan Mikita and Steve Larmer for most ever for a Hawk in a playoff game. His eighteen playoff points leads the NHL.
Jonathan Toews continues to live up to the expectations that were set when the Blackhawks drafted him in 2006. He was the player long-suffering Hawks fans had been waiting for since the late 90's. The talent was there, but the maturity was as well. Long before college-aged women across Chicagoland began pegging Toews as their "future husband" and buying his fake jersey from China for sixty dollars, he was considered the face of the Blackhawks franchise and the pride and joy of true Hawks fans everywhere. The moment he was drafted, most fans knew he was the team's next captain. On the biggest stages, he continues to show why that is. While at North Dakota, Toews was touted as being a leader, an offensive talent, and responsible defensively. Check, check, check. Performances like Game 4 make me giddy thinking about him centering the Hawks' top line for at least five more years.
An honorable mention for tonight's game goes to Dave Bolland. Bolly is one of my favorite players on the team, and it has killed me to see him play nowhere near his capabilities since his back surgery early this season. In this series, the old Bolland appears to have returned. He was terrific in Game 4, making plays in all three zones and tallying a goal and an assist. If he keeps up this level of play, it would be huge for the Hawks' chances going forward.
Now it's time to look forward to Sunday night at the UC. Heading into Game 3, the goal was to simply win one game in Vancouver and come home tied. After two convincing victories at GM Place, we now have a chance to see a handshake line on our home ice after Game 5. I also invite any other Hawk fans that sit on the west end of the arena to join me in yelling insults at Alex Burrows and Shane O'Brien during warm-ups. This is shaping up to be a fun night!
Unless the Canucks suddenly begin spending less time playing like the dirtiest team in professional sports and more time playing hockey, this one is over. Oh, and "Reboundo 7uongo" as he's now being called in Chicago, has to be better as well.
-JT (Follow me on Twitter @JTalarico328 for Hawks thoughts, news, and updates)