It feels like the Blackhawks have been through it all since Wirtz kicked the bucket in October 2007, yet they find themselves in unfamiliar territory tonight. It's 60 minutes for all the marbles. Game seven. Just saying those two words brings on a feeling of intensity and relentlessness.
In hockey especially, Game seven means a level of play that many have never seen. Over the two seasons previous, the Hawks have ended their playoff series' in six or four games, with the only exception being Detroit eliminating them in five in the 2009 Semi's. In a Game six, one team plays with complete desperation while the other can be slightly more relaxed because technically they aren't fighting for their playoff lives. There will be none of that tonight. Instead, it truly will be something Blackhawks fans haven't seen in years, and if you're new to the party, something you've never seen.
Tonight, you will see more than 40 men leave every ounce of energy they can muster on the Rogers Center ice. You will see several players who appear to be hurt, yet continue to play. Leaders will rise to the occasion (paging Jonathan Toews) and unlikely heroes will emerge (how about Round 2, Benny Smith?).
For each team, there are different things at stake besides moving on to the second round.
For the Canucks, a loss means several jobs are likely in jeopardy. How long can upper management watch Alain Vigneault get removed from the playoffs whenever Joel Quenneville stands on the opposite bench? How many more times can they watch Bob Luongo fold like a lawn chair any time he faces the Hawks (with or without Buff)?
This morning, Vancouver is buzzing amongst a combination of excitement and extreme nerves. NHL.Com Senior Writer Dan Rosen wrote on Twitter this morning that, while channel surfing in Vancouver, he saw a news anchor wearing a Canucks jersey as well as a woman giving the weather in a Canucks t-shirt. This shouldn't come as a surprise. Hockey is life in Vancouver; the game is covered there the way we cover the NFL in America. What's going to happen if their beloved 'Nucks lose to the Hawks three straight years, this time as a President's Trophy winning one-seed? Riots? Garbage on the ice? Yes and yes.
The Canucks wouldn't be the first dominant one-seed to lose to an eight (the Sharks and Capitals say hello), but this exact scenario would be completely new. Losing to the same team three straight years when you were the favorite twice doesn't bode well for keeping a rabid fanbase happy. And then there's the 3-0 comeback thing. The Canucks would become only the fourth team in NHL history to allow a team to come back to win a series after trailing 3-0. To allow a tired, eight-seeded Hawks team to do it would be considered disgraceful for the Vancouver fans. How could they even get excited about next season?
For the Hawks, there is plenty to gain but not much to lose. They got their championship last year and weren't expected to steamroll through the league again this year. A loss tonight will leave Chicagoans upset of course, but not completely crushed. I believe I can speak for the fanbase by saying we would still be proud of the team's efforts.
On the other hand, a win for the Hawks means a flight to San Jose for another 2010 playoff rematch, this time against their former Stanley Cup winning goaltender. In the big picture, a win shows that the Hawks are serious about repeating. Only eight teams will be alive heading into round two and it would be tough to argue that the Hawks, riding insane momentum, wouldn't stand as good a chance as the other seven.
In the sports world, it just doesn't get much better, or bigger than tonight. There's the undeniable rivalry between the two clubs, the side story lines, the off-ice implications, and an insane amount of talent up and down both rosters. It has absolutely everything you could want.
If you're reading this, you probably already have your day and night scheduled around puckdrop.
But if you're a casual onlooker wondering what this Hawks frenzy is all about, tonight at 9pm would be a good time to find out.
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