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Wednesday, December 1

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Blackhawks Wed May 12 2010

On the way to San Jose

Last night saw the Blackhawks do what they do best on the road - win, knocking out the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 and advancing to a Western Conference final matchup with the top-seeded San Jose Sharks.

Following Game 5's subpar effort, the Hawks came out firing, and had the greater scoring opportunities throughout the 1st period, but it wasn't til Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg scored 36 seconds apart in the first 3 minutes of the 2nd period that Chicago was able to take a lead and not look back.

But the true dagger came with 45 seconds left in the 2nd period, as Dave Bolland rushed up ice on a shorthanded breakaway and beat Robert Luongo for a 3-0 lead. The Canucks did manage to get on the board early in the 3rd off a Shane O'Brien slapshot, but Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien converted on breakaways 35 seconds apart in the middle of the third period to close the door and seal the victory.

The Hawks were able to take advantage of a banged up Canuck blue line, as Alexander Edler was knocked out of the game toward the end of the first period. Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo was in the lineup after suffering an injury wished on no man in Game 5, but was hardly at full strength, and the Blackhawks were able to wear down the defense and capitalize on mental mistakes and turnovers.

Antti Niemi had a solid night in net for Chicago, making 29 saves and several big stops in the 1st, and the defense in front of him was able to limit chances much more effectively than in Game 5. On the other side of the ice, after a stellar first period, Roberto Luongo seemed to get shaken after the 1st and 4th goal, giving up a pair more in a minute's time, and Bolland's shorthanded breakaway was something he should have been able to smother. Yet again, the franchise captain seemed to wither when the Canucks needed him most, just as happened a year ago when he gave up 7 goals to the Hawks in Chicago. Luongo may have had the amazing saves of the series, but Niemi made more saves when it counted to keep the Blackhawks battling.

Though Patrick Kane netted his team-leading 7th goal of the playoffs and Jonathon Toews extended his point-scoring streak to 9 games with an assist for his 20th postseason point, seeing Brouwer and Bolland contribute is a welcome sight. While Bolland has been struggling since his return from back surgery, besides his goal, he was finally effective in the face-off circles, going 10-of-17. And while his line was a huge factor in shutting down the Sedin twins for Vancouver, seeing some scoring from the 3rd line is something the Hawks will need moving on.

As for Brouwer, he received some sweet redemption after sitting the last 3 games. After missing the last 4 regular season games to be with his father, who was in the hospital doctors found a blood clot in his brain. Brouwer returned for the playoffs, but clearly had his mind elsewhere during the first round. However, the B.C. native got a chance to visit with his dad between games 3 and 4, and once he got back on the ice last night was able to refocus and get a big first goal.

For Vancouver, it's a matter of deja vu. The team lost their discipline in losing Games 3 and 4, and then their defense and goaltender let them down when they needed it most. The Hawks have had two very different series, and have battled through adversity in both, but the biggest factor has been their own play. When the team is connecting on passes, controlling the puck and not trying to be too fancy, they've proven especially tough to beat. Now, with a showdown with the Sharks looming and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals on the line, there can't be any half-hearted efforts. The top two seeds in the West are left, and the winner will have the inside line on hoisting the Cup.

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