Mats Sundin celebrates with teammates Ryan Kesler, Pavol Demitra, Alexander Edler and Kyle Wellwood after assisting on a goal during Game 1 against Chicago. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
He’s come a long way from Kyle ‘Well-fed.’
The jokes were flying this summer when Kyle Wellwood was walking around with a body that didn’t exactly scream professional athlete. But it was Wellwood who was buzzing around in Vancouver’s 4-3 Game 1 win over Chicago.
A shifty player with super-fast hands, Wellwood made nice plays to contribute assists on the first and third goals scored by the Canucks. And for all the talk of a mid-section that was a little too prominent before the season, it was Wellwood’s face that got in the way of things on Thursday night, to the tune of eight minutes worth of high sticking penalties.
Wellwood’s contribution is significant because it legitimizes the notion the Canucks can go beyond the realm of plucky team to parade planners. Vancouver can count on Roberto Luongo like the city can count on rain. The Sedins are going to get their points up front and the defense can mix it up. But if the Canucks are going to truly trade blows with the Western Conference heavyweights, they’ll need contributions from sources that aren’t always on a first-name basis with the scoresheet.
We still saw the worst of Wellwood early in the game, when he committed a ponderous giveaway behind his own net that nearly led to the Hawks opening the scoring. However, errors like that tend to be erased when you go out, flash magic hands and have your face carved up in return for power plays.
Meanwhile, lessons aplenty on both sides going forward. You have to believe a third-period jolt wasn’t the worst thing in the world for a Vancouver team that entered and left Game 1 undefeated in the playoffs. Sweep a team 4-0 in Round 1 and romp to a 3-0 lead in your first game of Round 2 and some dangerous sense of invincibility has to creep in. I think it’s fair to say that won’t be a problem for the Canucks going forward after Thursday night’s third-period scare.
Chicago’s little guy, Patrick Kane, was excellent in bringing the Hawks back with two goals in the final 20 minutes. Chicago is going to need its skaters to stand up and be better than Vancouver’s in this series because, strong as Nikolai Khabibulin can be, Luongo will almost certainly win the battle of guys who stand in the blue ice.
Kane has shown he’s come to play. Now Jonathan Toews, who’s passed every other test in his short tenure as Hawks captain, must ramp up his contributions and be the best player on the ice in Game 2 for his squad to gain that all-important split.
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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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