VANCOUVER — Alex Burrows scored his second goal of the night at 5:22 of overtime to give the Vancouver Canucks a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of their NHL playoff series Tuesday night.
Burrows intercepted a pass from Chicago defenceman Chris Campoli and blasted a shot past Blackhawk goaltender Corey Crawford. He was then mobbed by his teammates.
As thrilled as Burrows was over scoring the winning goal, he was even happier with his teammates for killing a holding penalty he took 24 seconds into the overtime.
“It’s a great finish,” he said. “I just want to thank the guys for killing that penalty. It’s the worst spot to be in the penalty box.
“We didn’t make it easy on ourselves. We felt good for 58 minutes. That tying goal we blew coverage a little bit and they got a bounce. We stuck with it. We still believed going into OT we could get it done. IT feels even better getting it done this way.”
The Blackhawks forced overtime when captain Jonathan Toews scored short handed with just under two minutes left in the game.
Burrows scored the game’s first goal at 2:43 of the first period.
Vancouver looked to have the game sealed when Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith was called for hooking at 16:43 of the third.
A Burrows turnover resulted Toews splitting the Vancouver defence, then dishing off a pass to Marian Hossa. Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo stopped Hossa’s shot, but Toews got the rebound and beat Luongo for his first goal of the playoffs.
The nail-baiting game was a fitting ending to a tense Western Conference quarter-final series that saw Vancouver take a 3-0 lead only to see the Blackhawks fight off elimination three times.
“It’s a big win,” Canucks forward Ryan Kesler said. “For us we are going to relish this one, celebrate this tonight and move on tomorrow.”
A sellout crowd of 18,860 sent up a deafening roar after the overtime goal. It was the most emotion felt at Rogers Arena since Canada won the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Mixed in with the cheers were huge sighs of relief, as the Canucks had courted disaster after the best regular season in the team’s 40-year history.
“It sucks. It’s not fun,” said Blackahwks defenceman Brian Campbell. “We battled. We didn’t put ourselves in a good position to start the series. We went after it but came up a little bit short.”
Burrows had a chance to score another goal 21 seconds into the third period when he was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway by Keith. Burrows fired a forehand into Crawford’s chest.
It’s still a long road to the Stanley Cup final, but beating the Blackhawks was a monumental first step for the Canucks.
The victory not only advanced Vancouver into the second round of the playoffs against Nashville, it also saved the Canucks from the most embarrassing meltdown in franchise history. Losing in the first round, especially blowing a 3-0 lead, would have been devastating to the players and a body-blow to the fans.
Defeating the Blackhawks also exorcised some demons from past playoff failures. Chicago had ended Vancouver’s season the last two years. That raised questions about the Canucks mental toughness and courage.
“For us, it was something we needed to do,” Kesler said of beating the Blackhawks. “We needed to get over this hump. For us it was pretty sweet beating them.”
For Luongo, the win ended two years of frustration against the Hawks and silenced critics who said he couldn’t win the big game.
The Canucks returned to the punishing style they used to win the first two games of the series. Big forward Maxim Lapierre delivered some crunching blows on the forecheck while rock-solid defenceman Kevin Bieksa banged bodies in front of Vancouver goal.
For most of the night the Canucks swept Blackhawks from in front of the net, allowing Luongo a clear view of the shots.
Luongo made some key saves in the second period, stopping a Patrick Kane deflection, then corralling a deflection that skipped along the ice like a pebble on water. In the third he dragged a pad in front of a Ben Smith shot during a scramble.
There were chants of “Luuu, Luuu” after each stop.
Crawford played a strong game for Chicago. During one stretch in the second period Crawford faced a firing squad of Canuck shots, stopping attempts by Chris Higgins and Lapierre.
At one point the rookie goalie found himself buried under Kesler and Mason Raymond.
Later in the third period Crawford made a diving stop on a Higgins backhand, then stopped Burrows on the rebound. Kesler failed to lift the puck over him.
An anxious crowd was on its feet cheering several minutes before the teams took the ice before the national anthems.
All day fans were on tenterhooks waiting for the Canucks to play the biggest game in franchise history since losing Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup final to the New York Rangers.
Burrows gave the crowd want it wanted at 2:43 of the first period. Kesler skated around Keith, then slid the puck across the front of the goal. Burrows had nothing but open net.
There was a few anxious moments in the first period when an Alex Edler shot hit Kesler on the side of the helmet. The big centre dropped to the ice like a fallen tree. He skated to the bench but soon returned to deliver a body-bruising hit on defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson behind the net.
Momentum shifted in the series like the currents in English Bay. The Canucks won the first three games and looked on the verge of sweeping the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Instead of folding, the Hawks won the next two games by a combined score of 12-2. Chicago forced a deciding game with a 4-3 overtime win Sunday.
Only three teams had battled back from 3-0 deficits to win a best-of-seven series. The Philadelphia Flyers did it last year, beating the Boston Bruins after being three games down.
The Canucks soared into the playoffs after the best regular season in the franchise’s 40-year history. Vancouver won the Presidents’ Trophy for the best record in the NHL. The club set franchise records for 54 wins, 117 points and 27 road victories. The Canucks scored more goals than any team in the league and allowed the fewest.
Daniel Sedin led the league in scoring with 41 goals and 63 assists for 104 points. Luongo is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the league. Mike Gillis has been nominated for GM of the year.
The Hawks needed a loss by Dallas on the final day of the season to back into the final playoff spot in the West.
Notes: The Canucks outhit Chicago 13-3 in the first period. … The last time the Canucks lost a first-round series was in 2002 when Detroit eliminated them in six games. …Sunday night’s Game 6 in Chicago drew an audience of 3.5 million for CBC. …A total of 12 Canucks had played in a previous Game 7. …Defenceman Sami Salo missed the game due to injury. He was replaced by Keith Ballard.