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Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi makes a third period save on Vancouver Canucks right wing Mikael Samuelsson as Blackhawks' Brian Campbell (51) checks during Game 3 of their NHL Western Conference semi-final hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia May 5, 2010. (ANDY CLARK/REUTERS)
Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi makes a third period save on Vancouver Canucks right wing Mikael Samuelsson as Blackhawks' Brian Campbell (51) checks during Game 3 of their NHL Western Conference semi-final hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia May 5, 2010. (ANDY CLARK/REUTERS)

Gary Mason

No need for Canucks to panic Add to ...

In the perennial sky-is-falling world of Canucks Nation, the home team entered Game 3 of its Stanley Cup series against the Blackhawks on the verge of elimination.

It mattered not that the series was tied one game apiece heading into it. It was the way in which the Canucks had frittered away a lead in Game 2 and lost that had convinced many in their fan base the series was over.

The Monday night setback in Chicago had conjured up horrible memories of last year's playoff match-up between the two teams when the Canucks had a chance to take a 3-1 series lead in Game 4 only to blow a 1-0 advantage in the last two minutes of the game and lose in overtime. According to legend, the team never recovered from the loss which is why its season was over after the next two games.

Those who believed Wednesday night's game was somehow a must win are surely jumping from buildings today, or at least plunging off the nearest bandwagon after their team went down to defeat and now trail - yes, trail - the series two games to one.

They might as well concede now.

No wonder hockey players don't read newspapers or listen to sports talk radio.

I suspect what the Canucks will do following this defeat is not panic, because there is no need to. Yes, they are now behind in this series but they can't be dismayed with the way they played for much of the game.

The Canucks dominated vast swaths of it and could have given Chicago a much better contest were it not for some superb goaltending from Antti Niemi, the Finnish backstopper who hasn't received the kind of respect his playoff record suggests he should be getting.

The truth is many have been waiting for Niemi to crack under the pressure of his first NHL playoffs. The trouble is every time he's had an off game he's come back with a strong one. And Wednesday against the Canucks he was exceptional, especially in the first period when Chicago was outshot 16-12.

The Hawks would appear now to have a netminder who is ready to give them the kind of goaltending you need in the playoffs, which has a trickle down effect throughout the lineup. Defenceman suddenly don't feel as rushed with the puck, don't feel one little mistake can end up in the back of their net - even though it could.

While Niemi was a central figure in Game 3's story line so was the goaltender at the other end of the ice - Roberto Luongo - but not for the same reason. As fabulous as Luongo has been in recent games it was his inability to control rebounds in this one that was his and his team's undoing.

Three of Chicago's goals, including the fourth by Marion Hossa which was a real buzz killer, were all off of shots that Luongo failed to control. A couple of others got by Luongo in scramble situations - the kinds of goals that perhaps weren't directly his fault but looked ugly nonetheless.

Two of the rebounds were converted by Dustin Byfuglien, the 6'4" behemoth whose primary job coming into this series was to act as a screen in front of Luongo. The theory being that someone big enough to block out the sun should be able to do the same thing to a goaltender. He would be given credit after the game for one of the goals that went in during a scramble in front of the net, giving him a playoff hat-trick.

Hawks' coach Joel Quenneville must have been absolutely giddy with delight.

Let me be predict widespread panic in Vancouver today. Those who believe in curses and jinxes are beside themselves with happiness, believing that last year's Game 4 playoff loss will haunt the Canucks for years now.

We'll certainly get a good idea what this Canucks team is made of, whether they are a different squad than the one that wilted under the playoff pressure last year. Henrik Sedin insists it is, the players made of different stuff. The Canucks' regular season record would certainly indicate they are a team that doesn't panic when it gets behind.

I guess we're going to see.

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

 

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