CHICAGO – You'd think their body language would give away the sense of panic -- if their words didn't -- inside the Vancouver Canucks' dressing room.
Vancouver, the top-seeded team in the Western Conference coming into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, dropped a third straight game in its conference quarterfinal series against the rival Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night at the United Center.
Worse yet, it happened late in overtime with a little-known rookie named Ben Smith getting the game-winner after the Canucks outplayed the Hawks for almost the entire second half of the game.
They should've been devastated, but they weren't. Or, if they were they hid it real well.
"I'd rather see us lose this way than lose 7-2 or whatever," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said, referring to the score they lost by in Game 4 in this building, while holding a commanding 3-0 lead in the series. "We worked hard. We played the way we wanted to. I thought we took over halfway through the game and we've got to keep doing that on Tuesday. They looked tired out there."
Maybe so, but the Blackhawks are probably going to come out flying high in Game 7 on Tuesday night at Rogers Arena – despite making the long flight to Vancouver for the third time in two weeks. They're now just one more win away from repeating the unthinkable comeback the Philadelphia Flyers pulled off a year ago in the quarterfinal round – coming back from the edge of disaster to oust the Boston Bruins.
Still, the Canucks aren't wasting time licking their wounds. Instead the Presidents' Trophy winners are buoyed by the way they played in Game 6 as compared to their previous two – which were both blowout losses.
Vancouver played much better defensively in this game, did a good job controlling the puck and narrowed the gap up the middle of the ice against Chicago's forwards in the neutral zone and offensive zone. The Canucks also threw more than 80 shots toward the Chicago goal by coach Alain Vigneault's count – with 35 of them being on target.
They also scored the first goal of the game and held three one-goal margins in their favor while outhitting the Hawks 37-33. They even got solid goaltending by both goalies despite a radical decision by Vigneault to start backup Cory Schneider over Roberto Luongo – who relieved an injured Schneider early in the third.
There are plenty of things the Canucks can feel good about on the stat sheet, except for the one thing that counts the most – the final score. They're not concentrating on that just yet, though, because positive thinking is all the rage inside the Vancouver locker room these days.
"It'll be fine," said defenseman Kevin Bieksa, whose tap-in off a rebound 58 seconds into the third gave Vancouver a brief 3-2 lead. "There's still a great opportunity ahead of us. We go back home and at the start of the series, I think we all expected it to go six or seven games. Things went our way early, but reality is it's two even teams and it takes seven games to decide who's the better squad. On home ice, we like our chances."
Luongo does, too, even though it's not a sure thing yet whether he'll get the start or not. How do the Canucks plan on stopping Chicago's momentum after dropping three straight to the Hawks?
"The same way Chicago did," Luongo said. "They were down 3-0 and came back and played a hell of a game and beat us 7-2, so they found a way. Now, it's our turn to respond."