With games in this series happening every other day, I was half-expecting the series to go by pretty fast, with barely a moment's pause. Yet, somehow, in the one-day breaks between games, a lot of things seem to happen anyway.
By my count, it's only been roughly about 36 hours since Dustin Byfuglien reared his villainous head to haunt the nightmares of everyone in the city of Vancouver. Even so, there's plenty of material cropping up to make tonight potentially even more explosive than game 3.
Storylines (and Questions) to Follow for Tonight's Game:
- The Officiating
It is no secret that officiating in the NHL has had its share of criticism. To be fair, though, there is a completely human element to calling penalties and not calling them, and as it is subject to the perception and bias of those who see it, is it really possible to have everyone agree on a call made?
That being said, it is clear that the Canucks haven't been happy with the officiating done thus far, especially with what they perceive has been an especially lax treatment of goaltender interference. Whether or not it technically happens, however, is not the point, but in discussing the calls made in the Sharks/Wings series, Chris McCosky of the Detroit News highlighted an interesting aspect of officiating:
After Game 1, Mike Babcock chides fellow Western Canadian Devin Setoguchi for embellishing an obvious slashing call. Now, even though Babcock's target was Setoguchi only, referees hate to hear that kind of stuff. It makes it look like they were duped and they tend to take deep offense.
So Sharks coach Todd McLellan wisely counters Babcock's comment by praising the integrity of the officials. Brilliant.
Come to Game 2 and the Sharks are diving all over the ice -- at least that's how it looked to me, especially goalie Evgeni Nabokov -- and the referees reward the Sharks with 10 power plays to four for the Wings. Coincidence? I don't know, but clearly, McLellan has the early lead in the working-the-refs department.
“If they do it on us and its not being called, we have to do the same thing on the other side to at least get it even up as far as advantages are concerned,” said Luongo, who finished with 30 saves. “We have to get some traffic.”
“We’re going to have to do a better job of protecting the front of our net,” Canucks Coach Alain Vigneault said. “At the same time, we know what’s being allowed and permitted on the ice in front of the nets and we have to do the same thing.”
- The Crease
Much has been made of Byfuglien's role in front of the net, and the truth is, it's well-deserved attention. Of the five Blackhawks goals scored in game 3, not a single one came off a single shot--each and every one of the goals were put in by Blackhawks players driving to the net and poking in rebounds.
We've been saying all along that good things happen when you plant yourself in front of the net, and the Canucks are now on record as saying they're planning to do the same.
Correct me if I'm wrong, though, but I thought they have been doing that. Some writer or blogger--I forget now who it was--pointed out that so many of the Canucks' chances in the first period flurry of game 3 happened by the left post, where Canucks have planted themselves to poke in rebounds of their own. The problem, of course, is Niemi's left pad. But elevate the puck, and the left post is the weak spot. Blackhawks will need to defend Niemi from whoever the Canucks plant there.
- Adjustments, Readjustments, Momentum
With some tension obviously building between the two teams, it would be interesting to see what the Canucks decide to do with their game plan. Quenneville made a few readjustments to the team after game 1, inserting Burish and Eager to the lineup (for the purpose of injecting some agitative energy, not goonery) and moving Byfuglien to the top line with Kane and Toews, and it's worked quite well so far.
Before game 3, there was a rumor going around that Hordichuk will be playing, but he ended up being a late scratch. Will AV cave and send out the Canucks' scrappers to face the Blackhawks? Will the players themselves attempt to get away with murder to throw the Blackhawks off their game, as the Blackhawks did with them? Will they try to retain their composure? It's a strategy that seemed to work in game 1.
Of course, what we don't know too is how much the Blackhawks have gotten inside the heads of the Canucks, and how easy it would be for the Canucks to not let themselves get affected. It takes plenty to rile up Daniel Sedin, and Bolland's done just that. Luongo's attitude going into the series and throughout it so far can reasonably suggest that Byfuglien isn't, in fact, just any other player in front of him. If there are, in fact, Blackhawks-shaped demons living underneath the Canucks' beds or in their closets, how easily vanquishable are they?
When all is said and done, of course, the better question is this: can the Blackhawks take the momentum from Game 3's win to seize a stranglehold on this series? This is the first time the Blackhawks have clearly dominated a playoff game--do they have the killer instinct to take full control?
We'll find out in roughly 9 hours.