From their goaltender on out, the home team looked stunned at the offensive prowess of the highest scoring team in the conference, losing to the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 in Game 1 of a Western Conference semifinal playoff series on Saturday night at the United Center.
Antti Niemi made his share of saves early on, but to win a Stanley Cup it takes more than a few minutes, or even games, of steady play. It takes two months. Niemi’s rebound control has been a problem since midway through the season and it reared its ugly head again here in Game 1.
There are only so many initial saves you can make while leaving juicy rebounds, before a good offensive team will pounce. The Canucks are that team. Eleven different skaters earned at least a point for Vancouver. That is very Hawks-like.
Niemi’s problems were compounded by a Hawks' defense that left its game in Nashville. Brent Sopel had his way with the lowly Predators' offense but blocking shots won’t be enough against these Canucks. Sopel gave away the puck three times and was minus two -- and that was just in the first period. He lost board battles as well as all the goodwill with fans he amassed in round one.
Roberto Luongo proved that he is more than over his Game 6 performance of a year ago. His first period on Saturday was the difference in the game, stopping 17 shots while his counterpart made just 11 saves on 13 chances.
Is it possible to chalk Game 1 up to a step up in class? Yes, but that doesn’t mean Game 2 will be any easier.