Canucks’ Luongo unsung hero of 2011 vanquishing of Blackhawks

Watch as Alex Burrows scores in overtime of Game 7 to eliminate the Chicago Blackhawks.

VANCOUVER – The second most famous goal in Vancouver Canucks history is nearly as famous as the first, which tells you just how memorable it was when Alex Burrows scored in overtime of Game 7 to slay the Chicago Blackhawks back in 2011.

The only goal any bigger for the Canucks in the last 50 years was Pavel Bure’s opening-round overtime winner in Game 7 against the Calgary Flames at precisely the same stage of the Stanley Cup tournament in 1994.

But while people who watched that game more than a quarter-century ago can’t talk about Bure deking Mike Vernon without also mentioning Canucks goalie Kirk McLean stacking his pads against Robert Reichel in OT — by far the most famous save by a Vancouver netminder — not enough gets said about Roberto Luongo’s stunner against Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp about four-and-a-half minutes before Burrows stole the puck from Chris Campoli and slapped a knuckleball past Corey Crawford.

And had neither that save nor that marker occurred, people on the West Coast would still be lamenting Vancouver’s inability to prevent a tying goal by Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews in the dying minutes of regulation time – “WHILE THE CANUCKS WERE ON THE POWER PLAY!”

Truly, there was never a more incredible eight minutes of running time for the Canucks than the events that ended arguably the greatest playoff series Vancouver has encountered when it finally finished off the Blackhawks in 2011.

That incomparable Game 7 is being rebroadcast by Sportsnet on Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT.

“I think that series had just about everything you could ask for: emotional highs and lows, adversity, momentum changes,” Canucks winger Jannik Hansen told Sportsnet. “Whenever a series goes to seven games and it gets decided in overtime … well, when you’re little and are playing street hockey with your friends or whatever, you never win a playoff series in five games and take the deciding game 6-2. You win it in Game 7 overtime. It’s what everybody dreams about.”

“Unreal,” Canucks star Daniel Sedin said. “We won that series, and everyone just relaxed because we couldn’t go through anything more nerve-wracking than what we just went through.”

The Canucks went 11-5 in their next 16 playoff games that spring before losing the last two games of the Final against the Boston Bruins. That Game 7 win against the Blackhawks turned out to be the happiest moment of the best National Hockey League season Vancouver ever had.

When workhorse Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith took a hooking penalty on Burrows at 16:43 of the third period with Vancouver leading 1-0, the Canucks looked on their way to the second round. They’d blown a 3-0 series lead against their nemesis Blackhawks, but were finally going to put down the Stanley Cup champions.

Up a goal in Game 7 with 3:17 remaining, on home ice at Rogers Arena and going on the power play, what could go wrong?

“The coaches decided not to put out the regular power-play unit,” Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis recalled. “Kevin (Bieksa) and I were out there just to be a little bit more responsible defensively. Toews came down and there’s a reason he was known as ‘Captain Clutch.’ He came down on me, on my offside, and I hip-checked him, took him down to the ice, and he still managed to pop a goal in from his stomach. It was a sick-to-your-stomach feeling once they scored.”

Toews swatted the rebound from Marian Hossa’s shot past Luongo to tie it 1-1 with 1:56 remaining after Burrows’ turnover in the neutral zone allowed the Blackhawks to attack 2-on-4.

“Toews skated by our bench with the puck and he just had this look in his eyes,” former Canucks associate coach Rick Bowness said. “You just knew this guy was not going to be denied. It was unreal. Of all the memories of my career, that’s one of the most vivid. It was an amazing goal, an amazing individual effort by an incredible hockey player.”

Hamhuis and Bieksa were caught on their opposite sides and although Hamhuis upended Toews with his hip, the Blackhawk still got the puck to Hossa behind Bieksa.

“I know Burr kind of fumbled it, but it didn’t really seem like we were in danger,” winger Chris Higgins said. “But they score and it’s like: S–t. . . are you freaking kidding me? What the hell just happened?”

“It was surreal,” Hansen said. “We played an almost perfect game. We’d gotten the lead, we played safe for the second half of the game. We get a late power play. Just keep it safe and just let the clock run out. Lou’s playing a helluva game. We just have to get this thing to the end. And then somehow they find a way to score a short-handed goal and you wonder, ‘How did we end up in this situation? We’re up 3-0 in the series, and we’re up in Game 7 and we find a way to throw that away as well.’”

Just 24 seconds into overtime, Burrows took a holding penalty on Keith.

Chicago’s power play had helped bring the Blackhawks back in the series, scoring six times in Games 3-5. And it seemed it was going to win Game 7 when Toews passed the puck around Bieksa, who had gone to the ice, leaving Sharp with a glorious back-door chance in the low slot and half the net open.

“I’ve watched that play over and over again and part of it was my fault, part of it was a really good play by Toews,” Bieksa said. “All of our pre-scout video showed that when (Patrick) Kane got the puck on the half-wall on the power play and throws it down to Toews, he whips the puck on net (from a sharp angle). And sometimes he catches the goalie off-guard and it goes in low, sometimes it creates a rebound for the guy going back door. We knew that. So the first time they go down to Toews, I slide. He tries to throw it hard at Lou’s feet, but I block it. Then they get reset, moving it to Kane, down to Toews again. Now I’m down too early. He sees me down and holds it, holds it, then goes around me and passes to Sharp back door. And I think f—-, he just played me. All I’m thinking is: Please Lou, please Lou.”

“Cross-crease, Chicago has done that so many times,” Hansen said. “It’s over.”

It wasn’t. Luongo pushed off his post so powerfully, moving left to right, that he was square to Sharp when the puck arrived on the sniper’s stick.

“First of all, you know Chicago’s power play and Sharpie was always on that side for the one-timer,” Luongo told Elliotte Friedman in Sportsnet’s oral history of the 2010-11 Canucks. “As Toews passed, I tried to intercept it with my stick, but missed. It was a little too far from me. So in a situation like that, I always practise what Francois Allaire taught me as a kid. When you’re sliding, always slide to your posts. I didn’t want to slide toward the top of the crease. You always want to slide toward your post, and that was just instinct. Technically I was in good position, and he shot where my body was.”

Sharp recently told The Athletic, “I really didn’t feel like I had the game on my stick, to be honest. I just shot it short side as hard as I could, and Luongo got his blocker on it. It was a big save.”

There hasn’t been a bigger one since by a Canuck.

“Patrick Sharp had pretty much an empty net in overtime on the power play, and Lou saved it,” Sedin said, still sounding a little in disbelief nine years later. “Sharp puts that in nine times out of 10. When that happened, I think, ‘OK, let’s win this for Lou and for ourselves.’”

Hansen said, “All those games are kind of a blur. From that game, I don’t recall Burr’s first goal, don’t recall Chicago’s goal that much. But I remember Lou’s save. And I remember Burr’s second goal.”

Four minutes and 33 seconds after Luongo saved the Canucks, Burrows buried the Blackhawks at 5:22 with the famous goal we recently wrote about here.

“That’s one of the greatest moments of my career — the elation you felt, and the relief,” Bowness said. “Alain (coach Vigneault) and I are looking at each other walking out for that overtime and we both knew: We lose this, and we’re done. He said, ‘OK, we better pull this off or we’re done.’ Oh my god, we did it.”

“I was quick out of the gate for Burr,” Higgins said. “It was just pure emotion. It was years of frustration. Years. To just be beaten down by the same team? Guys have a lot of pride. Guys train all summer with that thought in their mind. When fans are at the beach, guys are in the weight room with that one focus. Those losses in the past are fuel. For the pain and suffering we went through to have a moment like that, it was pure emotion. It was awesome.”

“Now that they’ve had a couple of tough years there, you look back and see how good we had it — with people and with talent,” Bowness said. “It’s the people that make it. We didn’t get the job done (against Boston), but, my God, we had a great team with great people.”

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