Canucks back up their belief with classic overtime victory

Vancouver Sun – April 27, 2011

For most of four decades, we’ve been waiting for a goal like that. It’s hard to fathom there could be six more weeks like this.

The Canucks’ search for their first Stanley Cup continues after Alex Burrows blasted a rolling puck past goalie Corey Crawford at 5:22 of overtime Tuesday, lifting Vancouver to a 2-1 Game 7 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks and into the second round of the National Hockey League playoffs.

The Canucks have been there before, but never got there this way — this dramatically. This unexpectedly, after the defending champion Blackhawks had roared back from an 0-3 deficit to start the series and roared back Tuesday with a shorthanded tying goal late in the third period.

“It’s Game 7, exciting,” Canuck Ryan Kesler said after the team mobbed Burrows while Roger Arena shook with a deafening cheer. “We deserved this one. We believed.”

Not everyone did.

The Canucks were the best team in the National Hockey League’s regular season, winning the Presidents’ Trophy by 10 points. But after bolting to three straight wins against the Blackhawks, they looked like they’d be just the fourth team in Stanley Cup history to lose a seven-game playoff series with four straight losses.

Jonathan Toews, a Team Canada Olympic hero in this building just 14 months ago, tied it for Chicago on a shorthanded rebound with 1:56 remaining in regulation time and the Blackhawks had a chance to win in overtime when Burrows took a holding penalty 24 seconds into the extra period.

But Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, often criticized but seldom at fault in this series, made a season-saving stop on Patrick Sharp during the Blackhawk power play, and four minutes later Burrows was the hero.

The Canucks winger, who scored Vancouver’s first goal, had been stopped by Crawford on a third-period penalty shot and later shot high on a breakaway.

“This is awesome,” Canuck owner Francesco Aquilini said. “This is incredible. I’m really proud of these guys. For these guys to fight back like that is beyond words.”

Projected onto a giant banner hanging from the ceiling at Rogers Arena were the words: “This is what we live for.” The first round came close to killing us.

No Canuck team has been this good. But when Vancouver squandered its lead in the series and in Game 7, it seemed it would be just another spring of heartbreak and disappointment for hockey fans here.

That’s why Tuesday’s win seems so special, almost cathartic. The Canucks had a chance to collapse, but didn’t. They looked like they were beaten, but won. They overcame.

Not many Canuck teams have done that.

“What would have happened if we would have lost?” a hoarse Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. “I don’t know. There were a lot of doubts around this dressing room from the outside. And I can see why. But I knew we’d be able to come back.”

The Canucks will open the next round at home against the Nashville Predators, likely on Thursday.

The Blackhawks, Stanley Cup champions who dawdled all season before suddenly finding inspiration and their game in the playoffs, went home defeated by the team whose season Chicago ended the last two springs.

“It was nothing personal,” veteran Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa said. “They were just a team that was in our way of getting to the Stanley Cup.”

For their first 20 years, the Canucks were not good, and for most of the last 20 they haven’t been good enough. Players have told us all season that this team is different, that these players are different.

And Tuesday, they backed up their words.

The Blackhawk series could launch the Canucks towards something great.

Toews said just a few days ago that no team wins the Stanley Cup without reaching a point of near-hopelessness, when victory seems almost impossible. But you overcome, and then you believe.

Maybe the Canucks reached that point when Toews scored shorthanded late in the third period.

This series wasn’t first vs. eighth. It was Stanley Cup champion against an arch rival whose fervent belief is that it was their time to succeed. Maybe the Canucks are right.

It has been 41 years since they entered the NHL, but they’ll be playing in May with momentum to match their talent and the conviction that this is their year.

“We didn’t make it easy on ourselves,” Burrows said. “I think it feels even better getting it done this way.”