And they're off. A good night for the favourites to start the NHL post-season; four games and the hometeam won in each case with the exception of Nashville's 4-1 win over Anaheim, and a No.5 seed winning the opener over a No.4 can't really be considered an upset, I don't think. I'm sure the fans in Vancouver can breath a bit better this morning after the Canucks came out and played like their regular season selves against their playoff rivals. But will beating this version of the Blackhawks be as meaningful? We have that, a really nice Sidney Crosby story; Georges St-Pierre's preparations for his big night in Toronto and more:
1. These aren't your Stanley Cup champions of old:
The Chicago Blackhawks represent a bogeyman of sorts for the Vancouver Canucks -- or at least their fans. Or at least Roberto Luongo. But how much does a sweater really matter, anyway? As Vancouver came at Chicago in waves in the opening game of their first-round playoff matchup, a comfortable 2-0 win for the Canucks, it's worth remembering that these Blackhawks -- carved up by the NHL salary cap -- aren't the same Blackhawks that bounced Vancouver from the playoffs last season, as Mark Spector writes: we should have been prepared for this, after seeing the Hawks scuffle through the regular season; as we averted our eyes while the once-mighty Stanley Cup champs backed into the playoffs on the final day of the season, courtesy a win by lowly Minnesota.
Somehow though, you have to see the machine in a playoff atmosphere before you can appreciate that the sum of its current parts is, obviously, nowhere near as great as what the Vancouver Canucks faced a year ago.
Daniel Sedin had said it best at Wednesday's morning skate, when he said, "The balance we have, it's probably a deeper lineup than they have. We are a deep team - that's how we are going to win games.
"If we play against Keith and Seabrook, and the Toews line, and we do a good job against them, we know that our other lines are going to step up and win the games for us."
By the time Game 1 was over, neither the Sedin Bros., nor the Blackhawks top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa - who was replaced by Patrick Kane - had picked up a single point.
2. Sidney Crosby's not cleared for contact, but he can still have an impact:
If the episode recounted here ends up a being fodder for a reality TV show I might think otherwise, but this anecdote reflects awfully well on the Pittsburgh Penguins star, who saw some fans in his jerseys and went out of his way to do what fans wearing player's jerseys probably wish for when they plunk down their money. In the process he proved himself a decent, friendly guy who appreciates those who pay the freight, and understands that a small, spontaneous gesture can mean a lot to someone: Sidney Crosby actually pulled up behind my family and me in the parking lot adjacent to the Consol Energy Center and asked, from his vehicle, who the young man in front of me was. I did manage, after a brief moment of awe, to introduce him to Kyle, and proceeded to ask Kyle if he knew who this man in the suit and tie was. (The two are only a year apart in age). Kyle - being Kyle - squealed with happiness and did a dance in his wheelchair in confirmation. From there, Crosby offered Kyle an autographed picture of himself, made casual conversation - asking how many games Kyle attends, where Kyle is from - and even got out of his car to take a picture with his young fan. And if ever we were wondering what made him stop, he did offer, "Well, I saw you were wearing my shirt, so"
He motioned to Kyle (as well as our mom and myself), who were all wearing his unmistakable captain jersey. He even touched Kyle's shoulder in kindness and told him thanks for coming to the games.
This whole incident absolutely blew all of us away. Never, in a million years, would I have expected this man to seek us out - even Kyle - and do what he did.