'Hawks force Canucks to game 7

Chicago Blackhawks' Michael Frolik scores a penalty shot against Vancouver Canucks' Cory Schneider....

Chicago Blackhawks' Michael Frolik scores a penalty shot against Vancouver Canucks' Cory Schneider. (REUTERS/Jeff Haynes)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:58 PM ET

CHICAGO - Alain Vigneault shoved all of his chips, and maybe even his job, into the middle before the puck even dropped, and all that remained to be seen was whether the players had stones as big as their coach.

All he asked the Canucks to do Sunday was walk into one of the most hostile environments in sports, in front of a rookie backup, after the world had been crashing down on them for five days and dethrone, once and for all, the defending Stanley Cup champions.

A little too much to ask, as it turned out, but it wasn’t a lack of fortitude that sunk the President’s Trophy winners. Playing with five defenceman and in the shadow of a goaltending melodrama, they pushed Chicago to the brink before finally succumbing 4-3 in overtime.

“Sometimes it takes all of your lifelines to win a million dollars,” said Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa, whose club, after once holding a 3-0 series lead, is now face to face with a stunning choke. “That’s where we’re at right now. We’ve used our three lifelines. It’s do or die.”

So now the whole circus is off to Vancouver for Game 7 Tuesday, and if the series finale serves up half the plot twists and high drama of Game 6, then bring it on.

“I don’t think too many people expected us to be going back there,” said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. “It was an exciting game, there were a lot of things happening. We hung in there and found a way to win.”

The first bombshell went off in the pre-game skate, when it became apparent, then official, that Schneider would be starting in place of embattled and struggling Luongo - but in a turn of events too incredible to script, Luongo lost the game anyway.

With Vancouver leading 3-2 in the third, Schneider cramped up on a penalty shot goal by Michael Frolik and had to leave the game. In came Roberto, the scars of rejection still fresh, with 17 minutes and changed left in a 3-3 tie.

Unbelievable.

He got them to overtime, but Ben Smith’s back-breaker at 15:30 extended the series.

“All year long we’ve used both goaltenders and to tell you the truth I went with my gut,” said Vigneault. “On our way down on Friday I started thinking about it. Talked it over with management and coaches and made the decision Saturday.

“(Roberto) was really good, he grabbed Schneid’s was in his corner right away, and wished him luck.”

This is big a shot to the pride as it gets, but Luongo is just trying to keep it professional.

“It’s up to the coaching staff,” he said. “As an athlete you’re dealt with those types of situations and you learn to deal with them. I came in and I fought hard. It’s disappointing to lose but our focus is on Game 7.

“It’s a team game. I put the team ahead of myself. I wanted to win this game as much as anyone.”

Schneider held up his end of the deal, stopping 17 of 20 shots before getting hurt. Truth be told, the Canucks did everything but win.

“I thought we played our best game of the series so far,” said Vigneault, who lost defenceman Sami Salo after four shifts. “We just kept pushing.”

The Hawks have been saying all along that they have nothing to lose. Now the series is dead even, and they have just as much to lose Vancouver.

But they think the choke card can still work in their favour.

“I think we still have to think that we’re the team that’s battling back from a 3-0 deficit,” said Jonathan Toews. “That’s when we played our best hockey. “They’re still the ones who feel they had the 3-0 series lead and are trying to close out the series. We’re trying not to let them do that.”


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