CHICAGO -- The Vancouver Canucks treated Game 6 as if it was their Game 7, and they played what GM Mike Gillis called their best game of the season. They even made the most dramatic of changes, swapping out the franchise goalie for his inexperienced backup, and for nearly two periods the move actually didn't look terrible even if Cory Schneider was guilty of a few gaffes.
They essentially pulled out all the stops, and yet here we go again.
For the third straight game Vancouver couldn't figure out a way to hammer the final nail into the Chicago Blackhawks. So, for the third straight year the team from the Windy City has the Canucks on the ropes, 60 or more minutes away from ruining a perfectly great season that will matter so little in Vancouver they might want to give the NHL back its Presidents' Trophy before it gets destroyed.
Game 7 is Tuesday night at Rogers Arena (10 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, CSN-CH, RDS) and the angst over the hockey team in this city has perhaps never been as high as it is right now because neither have the expectations.
"It would be easy for us to get low right now, but I don't think this is the time to feel sorry for ourselves," Roberto Luongo said. "This is the time to roll up our sleeves and get to work here for what's going to be an exciting Game 7 here on home ice."
This one-game battle for the right to play on wasn't supposed to happen, not after the Canucks won the first three games of the series and looked to be the superior team on the ice that we all analyzed they were on paper. But, it is happening, it is for real and the pressure on these Canucks to win is so ridiculously high that the tiniest of punctures could blow them to smithereens.
How do you cope knowing everything you worked for could be erased by late Tuesday night? How do you not skate in fear when a champion is coming at you like a freight train without brakes?
"It's one game," Sedin said. "We've got to win one game and if you do that everything else is forgotten. Everyone else is going to forget about losing three games in a row. They're going to forget about taking this to Game 7. They're going to forget everything. We see it as a one-game series."
If the Canucks are, as they say, still confident in their ability to rebound from a tough loss, well they've got a funny way of showing it.
They were blitzed in Game 4 by a 7-2 count and then gashed in Game 5 by a 5-0 score. They looked so much better in Game 6 that you would have thought the hockey gods would have granted them one more goal than the Hawks, but Corey Crawford and Ben Smith apparently pray to a different set of holy-puck rulers.
Crawford was incredibly composed after giving up a rebound goal to Kevin Bieksa 58 seconds into the third period and Smith, the kid who has played the same amount of Stanley Cup Playoff games as he has NHL regular season games (6 apiece) cashed in on a rebound with a backhanded shot while falling down in the slot to win it for the Hawks with 4:30 left in overtime.
Luongo started Game 6 watching from the visitor's dressing room inside United Center because there was no room on the bench for him to park his butt. He finished lying prone in the crease, breathing into the ice after Smith scored off a rebound from Niklas Hjalmarsson's blue-line shot that hit off Luongo's stick and bounced into the worst possible spot in the rink.
Luongo will be in the net to start Game 7. Cory Schneider will be his backup again.
"He knew (Sunday) that he was either going to start Game 1 of the next series or start Game 7," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said, confirming that Luongo would start. "Roberto has handled the big stage before. He'll be fine."
The Canucks, though, have concerns beyond their goaltending. The dynamic Sedin twins, first and fourth respectively in the Art Ross Trophy race this season, have all of a sudden become predictable and, dare we say, non-factors.
Oh sure, Henrik set up Daniel for a goal just two minutes and six seconds into Game 6, but where were they for the rest of the night? Where have they been since their arch-nemesis -- Canucks' killer Dave Bolland -- returned to the Blackhawks' lineup in Game 4?
Bolland has 6 points in the last three games while Henrik and Daniel have combined for only half of that. Bolland is a plus-6; the Sedins are a minus-13. It's no coincidence that the Blackhawks are 3-0 and the Canucks, of course, 0-3.
"I think this series for us, it's been like the rest of the team," Henrik said. "Our first three games we were solid defensively and we created a lot of chances. Games 4 and 5 we were way too spread out and we gave them way too many scoring chances. (Sunday) night we played as a team, and as a line and a group we were a lot more solid defensively."
The Canucks believe they were at their best in Game 6, but it wasn't good enough.
Now the question is, are they?
"We need to play like we did (Sunday)," Henrik said. "If we play that game we're going to be successful. There's no doubt in my mind that we're going to score our share of goals and we're going to win the game."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl