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2011 NHL Playoffs, Series Recap: Canucks Squeak Past Blackhawks In Seven Games

The Vancouver Canucks allowed a 3-0 series lead escape them and almost blew the entire series to the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. After a thrilling Game Seven that went into overtime, it was the Canucks that survived to fight another day. There will be a new champion in hockey this season.

In my preview, I said the following about this series:

The Blackhawks may have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but their defense has taken a substantial step back from the squad that won the Cup last season. Goalie Corey Crawford is solid, but has a grand total of 16 career minutes of playoff experience. Still, they will provide Vancouver with a solid early test.

Canucks in 6

Lesson learned: Never underestimate the defending champions, especially one as young and talented as the Blackhawks. Chicago gave Vancouver all they could handle, and carried the mental edge throughout this series. This was a series for the ages.

What Happened To Chicago?

The Blackhawks struggled through the long regular season, barely sneaking into the playoffs. But in a single series, their top players showed up. Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith played like superstars, pulling Chicago back into this series by their own willpower. Rookie goalie Corey Crawford played like a veteran for much of the series. Chicago still has salary cap issues, but at least they have their money tied up in the right players. This was an extremely close series between two good teams, and Chicago redeemed themselves.

What Have We Learned About Vancouver?

You can view this two ways:

--The Canucks choked away the series

--The Canucks fought back through adversity and won.

Neither one is entirely accurate. The Blackhawks have always been a tough draw for Vancouver (eliminating them from the playoffs the past two seasons) and goalie Roberto Luongo has always struggled mightily against the Chicago forwards. Even when Vancouver was up 3-0 in the series, all three games were very close and could have easily become Chicago victories. This was a tight series the entire way, and Vancouver did just enough to win.

Going into next round, there are still some obvious questions. Is Luongo overrated as a goalie? His playoff record is nothing special (21-19) and he completely melted down during Games Four and Five of this series. Even if he struggles, Cory Schneider is waiting in the wings and could be just as good as Luongo right now. He's the best emergency option remaining in the playoffs, by far. Depth is a great thing.

But are the Canucks as good as we thought? They had the best record in the league by beating up on their weak Northwest Division foes (four lottery teams). In a long series, they can be exploited and pushed around. Their next opponent, the Nashville Predators, thrive under those conditions.

The Canucks are still an incredible team, but the Blackhawks exposed some flaws that weren't obvious before the playoffs began. Are they a team built for regular season success? To be determined.