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Tuesday, May 31, 2011
With Stanley Cup finals upon us, Hawks and Habs are left to wonder 'what if'

By Pierre LeBrun

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- It was just more than a month ago when both of this year's Stanley Cup finalists were hanging on for dear life. Game 7, overtime: One goal against them, and their season would be over.

But the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins survived. By a hair. And don't think it hasn't crossed the minds of the Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens on how close they came to beating these teams.

"Absolutely," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "But you also think about the task we would have had if we beat Vancouver. We would have likely faced Detroit and San Jose, so along with Vancouver, that's the top three teams in our conference. We would have had our work cut out for us, so it's not guaranteed that if we had got past Vancouver, we would have gone straight to the finals. Still, one more goal that night, and who knows."

Jonathan Toews
Jonathan Toews and the Hawks were ousted in the first round by the Canucks.

Who knows, indeed. Toews forced overtime with a short-handed goal late in the third period that stunned the crowd here at Rogers Arena. Then, Patrick Sharp nearly ended it in overtime on a Hawks power play but was stoned by goalie Roberto Luongo.

"Everyone asks me about that play and if I feel that was the one," Toews said. "From my vantage point, it looked like Sharpy had a great chance, but Luongo did a great job of getting across and taking the net away. Going into overtime, I felt like it was meant to be for us, but I guess things work out for a reason. The Canucks played a great Game 7 and deserved to win."

The Habs, meanwhile, were up 2-0 in their first-round series against the Bruins. Like Chicago, Montreal tied Game 7 late on P.K. Subban's goal, but it was not to be, as Nathan Horton won it for Boston in overtime. Now, the Habs are getting set to watch the B's in the Cup finals, and it's hard for the Canadiens not to think "what if."

"You think of it that way; everyone is inclined to think that," Habs star sniper Mike Cammalleri told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "We were up 2-0 on them, and if we can just take one game at the Bell Centre ... you start thinking, 'Well, if we're capable of beating them, maybe we're capable of being where they are right now.' But I don't think it necessarily works that way.

"Usually, teams that get to the finals find ways to get better throughout the playoffs, their game gets more solid, they have a certain depth to them, which allows them to win in different ways. I'm not saying we couldn't have done the same thing, I would certainly hope we could, but I'm saying Boston has been able to improve as the playoffs have gone on, and I would also say that their weakest series was probably against us."

And the Canucks had their toughest series with the Hawks, a team that seemed to be in their heads after playoff wins against Vancouver in 2009 and 2010.

"I think Vancouver's team definitely would have been different next year had they lost that game against us," Toews said. "They maybe don't have as much confidence against us for whatever reason, but you see that once they got past us, that confidence is back, and you see what kind of team they can be. They'll be tough to beat now."

No surprise: Toews wasn't picking Vancouver to win the Cup, and Cammalleri wouldn't pick Boston. The rivalries are still fresh.

"[Current Canucks GM] Mike Gillis was my agent and we're still close friends, and Maxim Lapierre, as well," Cammalleri said. "There's other guys I know on the team, too, like Raffi Torres and Manny Malhotra. I'd like to see those guys win it just because I have friends over there, and obviously we have a rivalry with a certain team that's in the final. As a Hab, you just don't want to see it happening. Vancouver's my pick."

Toews hesitated at first when asked for his Cup pick.

"Ah ... everyone has to know Vancouver is our rival, so, I'm obviously not going to pull for them," Toews said. "It's going to be a good series, but maybe if they win, it'll be motivation for our team to come back next year and return the favor in the playoffs and give them the boot next time."