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A Commanding Lead

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After losing Game 1 by four goals and barely managing to squeeze out a then-“must-win” Game 2, you might have bet the Hawks would have been just fine with splitting two games in Vancouver and making it a best of three with home ice advantage.  You’d have been wrong.

While Game 4 was back and forth in the first period, a decisive power play attack–led by Jonathan Toews–established Blackhawk dominance.  In fact, Toews’ hat-trick came entirely on power play goals (the first time a Hawk has ever accomplished that feat in a playoff game) and the Hawks scored four goals on eight Vancouver penalties.

It wasn’t exactly a stellar night for either goalie.  Antti Niemi stopped 26 of 30 shots.  Roberto Luongo made only one more save, 27, but faced 33 shots. 

The biggest difference in Game 4 was the attitudes of the two clubs.  Vancouver seemed determined to establish a physical presence but by doing so, committed a total of eight penalties.  A number of Vancouver’s penalties–just like in Game 3–put the Canucks in ugly situations.  After Daniel Sedin cross-checked Brent Sopel mid-way through the second, Patrick Sharp netted the Hawks fourth goal of the night, which at the time made it 4-2, and sapped all the energy out of the Vancouver bench.

While the Hawks played a physical game and seemed to match hit for hit, the Hawks took half as many penalties as the Canucks.  Joel Quenneville addressed the non-retalitory style of play after the game.  “The  way the game’s called now, I think initiating is… playing hard and playing smart is part of it,” Quenneville said.  “That’s part of what we stress.  You know, you have to have your sticks on the ice–that’s key as well but I think that the importance of staying out of the penalty box is heightened as you progress in the playoffs.  You can’t put yourself in those spots.”

Being in those spots plagued the Canucks in last year’s postseason  matchup with the Hawks as well.  In light of that, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was asked about his team losing their composure in Game 4.  “I really believe that this group is ready for this time, ready for this moment, but obviously our actions right now are proving me wrong.  But the series is not over and right now it’s about winning the next game.  That’s our focus,” Vigneault said.

Wether Vigneault believes it or not, the Canucks have not shown the ability to focus on scoring goals rather than pinning Hawks to the boards.  Should that trend continue and Vancouver spend another 16 minutes in the box in Game 5, they’ll be lucky to extend the series. 

So, after shrugging off a potentially disastrous Game 1, the Hawks find themselves in the envious position of heading back home with the ability to put the series to bed in front of what will no doubt be 22,000-plus ravenous Hawks fans.  Coach Q knows just how prime his team’s situation is, “You know, you come in here and win both games that’s a huge plus,” Quenneville said.  “I think you’ve got a lot of momentum.  You want to go home and try to take advantage of it but we know that we’ve got to be smart and we’ve got to be disciplined.”

Again, Coach Q takes an opportunity to hammer home the idea of being smart and disciplined.  It almost gives the feeling that it’s not so much about who scores more in Game 5, but who spends more time in the box.  That said, I’m sure the Hawks would take a seven-goal night in a heartbeat.

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