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The Verdict: Blackhawks-Canucks a new era rivalry

Monday, 11.07.2011 / 12:56 AM / The Verdict
By Bob Verdi  - Blackhawks Team Historian
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The Verdict: Blackhawks-Canucks a new era rivalry

At this early juncture in the season, the Blackhawks cannot possibly get even with the Vancouver Canucks over what happened last April. Regrettably for a juiced crowd of 21,883 at the United Center Sunday night, the Blackhawks opted to get mad, and it seemed as though they unloaded seven months worth of pent-up angst on their long-distance rivals.

The plan, such as it was, bombed and the visitors romped, 6-2, behind five power-play goals. The Canucks not only were very adept with a manpower advantage, they were very accustomed to it. Suffice it to say this was not the Blackhawks’ finest hour of the young campaign, or the smartest. However, they have to wait only ten days to try again, for a marathon road trip begins in the same building where last season’s Stanley Cup defense ended.

THE VERDICT

Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. He authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001, was the featured contributor in "One Goal Achieved: The Inside Story of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks," and has co-authored biographies on Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.

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As penance, who shall Blackhawk players take with them on their next excursion to St. Louis and Columbus? The in-laws? Probably not. Coach Joel Quenneville grunted about “execution…very poor” after the rout, but he stopped short of doing a John McKay on us. Years ago, his Tampa Bay Bucs were embarrassed and the coach was interrogated about their execution. “I’m in favor of it,” snapped McKay.

David Booth converted his own rebound for a 1-0 Vancouver lead, but soon, here came Michael Frolik down the left boards, whence he flung a puck on Roberto Luongo, who somehow avoided stopping the shot. It was 1-1 and the taunting audience thoroughly applauded the goalie’s clumsiness. If Luongo had moved liked that after partaking of a happy hour, you would have insisted on taking his car keys. Whether Luongo might have buckled under sustained pressure, however, we will never know.

The Canucks clicked twice by 4:40 of the middle period to build a 3-1 cushion. Quenneville eventually burned his time out and was seen orating behind the bench. Luongo left a carom available for Marcus Kruger to fetch, which the latter did with hustle, to make it 3-2. But the Canucks replied quickly, and it was 5-2 by the end of a session that featured a fist fest between Kevin Bieksa and Jamal Mayers. They had exchanged verbs and adjectives earlier, so this tiff was destined to occur later. On the undercard, Daniel Carcillo battled Aaron Volpatti briefly and effectively before another SRO audience that included the Chicago Wolves, Vancouver’s American League affiliate.

“These are fun games,” declared Luongo, and he could not be more correct. If only the Blackhawks and Canucks played more often than four times during the regular season. They’ve met three consecutive years in the playoffs, of course, which is where the grudge matches have evolved to another level. To that we say, fine. The Blackhawks were beloved by opponents for enough years. The Blackhawks were like Chinese food. Other teams ate Chicago for lunch, and a half hour later, they were hungry for more Blackhawks.     

It’s been a while since the Chicago Tribune sports section of April 27 bore that headline “Over Throne” after the Blackhawks were eliminated in sudden death of the opening round Game 7 in Vancouver. One suspects the only way the Blackhawks could have attacked this season with a higher degree of ill-humor is if the Canucks had succeeded them as Stanley Cup champions. Instead it was the Boston Bruins, but it still hurts. As Patrick Kane mused, once you win the Stanley Cup, you lapse into imagining that you own it. Alas, you only rent it. But Chicago’s boys of winter did not win in 2010 without discipline, and that aspect of their arsenal sorely lacked Sunday night.

Thus far this season, there have been some surprising upstarts: the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Dallas Stars. Perhaps it is not a shock that last year’s Cup finalists, the Canucks and Bruins, have opened less briskly. If the Canucks maintain their current pace—not likely, considering all that talent—they won’t have to worry about losing a Game 7 in June on their home ice. The Canucks exhibited a healthy sense of desperation Sunday night. Now they’re off to California for some rest and relaxation before their next game.

As the league has grown, the Blackhawks have partaken of different rivalries. When the league doubled in size to 12 franchises, there seemed to be an instant “chemistry” whenever the St. Louis Blues or Minnesota North Stars showed up on the schedule. Some games with those foes had to be scored with the ten-point must system. 

In ancient times, when the NHL consisted of only six franchises, angry attitudes were de rigueur because each team played the other 14 games during the regular season. Routinely, for instance, the Blackhawks would meet the Maple Leafs in Toronto on a Saturday night, then play host to the Maple Leafs in the Stadium on a Sunday night. It was not unusual for both teams to travel from Canada to the United States on the same train.

“If the other team’s car was between our car and the club car, well, there was no way we would walk through,” recalled Bobby Hull. “So, if we wanted to go to the club car, we waited until the train stopped at a station wherever, then went outside and walked around.”

Can you imagine the Blackhawks and Canucks on the same train? Come to think of it, can you imagine the Blackhawks and Canucks on a train, period?

But eras change, and nowhere has the hockey landscape taken a more remarkable u-turn toward the fast lane than in Chicago, where fans at the United Center are routinely consulted for opinions about their “experience” of attending a game. I might have missed it, but I don’t recall ever seeing a suggestion box in the Stadium back in the old days.