The Rust vs Rest debate, while really a no-brainer when given a choice between the two, was front-and-centre in Thursday night's 5-3 win for the Canucks over the Blackhawks in the first game of their Western Conference Semi-Final … there was rust alright, but surprisingly, it was almost as prevalent in the Hawk's game as it was the Canucks who had the 8 full days off between games.
The Canucks were lucky to escape with the win after letting the young stars of Chicago find their legs in the 3rd and erase a 3-0 deficit. The Hawks had all the momentum after scoring 3 straight in a 15 minute stretch before they inexpicably gave it all away surrendering a 4-1 rush with just over a minute left in the game when Sami Salo knocked a loose puck into a gaping net after Khabibulin had made the initial save.
The emotions in the playoffs can turn on a dime, and thankfully for Canuck Nation, we only have to give a passing wonder as to how devastating losing this game would have been as this series rolls along.
Instead, it was just another in a long line of wins for Vancouver this year where they found a way to win … they know they didn't play their best and they have now officially received notice that they can not take their foot off the gas against a team that has now managed to recover from 3 goals down 3 times in this year's playoffs.
They got a valuable lesson and it didn't cost them anything … the Hawks, with their over-exuberence that led to the winning goal against, learned one the hard way while the Canucks got their's for free.
The wake-up call coming in a win is obviously a best-case scenario for the Canucks, and if Chicago thought they were in tough last night they'll definitely need to step up their effort as you know the Canucks will be far better in Game #2.
Kyle Wellwood continued his personal ressurection as an NHL Player with another great game at both ends of the ice and was clearly the Canucks' best player on the night. His linemates in Mason Raymond and Steve Bernier were also good, and the 3rd line made it 5-for-5 with good solid games in the post-season.
Everyone can talk about the Sedins stepping up when it matters, who also played pretty well last night; and they can talk about Mats Sundin's presence being a difference; but it is the fact that this team can roll out 3 lines that can control the play on any given shift which makes this team so much different than recent editions of Team Canuck.
Wellwood has risen from being on the waiver-wire 3 times in the last 10 months, and was perhaps literally one day away from heading to Europe, to now becoming a key cog in the Canucks line-up and if he is not re-signed here the pending RFA will most cetainly find a new NHL home with a deal that will give him some security.
It appears he has received the ultimate wake-up call and has now applied his obvious hockey intellect to all facets of the game. He is so smart and so calm, with and without the puck, and is now relied upon to play key defensive minutes as well as contributing on the power play.
Last night he did it all registering 2 assists and was the one who started the 4-on-1 as the third period was winding down that the stats give him no credit for, and that was at a time of the game that he would never even see the ice in the past. He drew 10 minutes worth of powerplays losing a tooth and getting 5 stitches along the way, while going 7-0 in the faceoff circles and playing 18 and a half minutes on the night.
Wellwood's rise to prominence is just another reason that Canuck fans can feel confident that this team is different, that this season is different from those oh-so many disappointing ones of the past … after last night's win, there's a lot of reasons to be thankful.
The Grades …
A … Salo, Wellwood
B … Ohlund, Henrik, Daniel, Bernier, Raymond
C+ … Luongo, Mitchell (still hurting – only 18:15 TOI), Bieksa, Edler, Kesler, Sundin, Demitra, Burrows, Johnson
C … O'Brien, Hordichuk, Rypien
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Written by Mark Gage