VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - To understand how big it was for the Vancouver Canucks to finally knock the Chicago Blackhawks out of the playoffs, you just had to talk to their Olympians.
Alex Burrows scored his second goal 5:22 into overtime, Roberto Luongo made 31 saves and the Canucks avoided a historic playoff collapse by beating the defending Stanley Cup champions 2-1 in Game 7 of their first-round series Tuesday night.
After being lit up and eliminated from the last two playoffs by the Blackhawks, Luongo compared the victory to his gold medal for Canada in the same building 14 months earlier.
``I don't know, this one might be better than the Olympics,' Luongo said.
American Ryan Kesler, who lost that Olympic final to Luongo, said he wanted this game more than the gold medal.
``Not to take anything away from the gold medal, it's something really special,' he said. ``But you work all year for this and I've played with most of these guys for six, seven years and we've grown together and we've become family.'
That family has suffered a lot of painful losses at the hands of the Blackhawks the last two seasons - and in the previous three games. Vancouver won the first three of the series before Chicago roared back, threatening to spoil the Canucks' Presidents Trophy-winning season by becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to erase a 3-0 series deficit.
Instead, Vancouver will host Nashville in the opener of their second-round series. But first it will need to realize that as good as it felt to beat Chicago, it was still only the opening round of a playoffs it hopes will end in much bigger things.
``We needed to get over this hump,' Kesler said. ``We're going to relish this one and celebrate tonight and move on tomorrow.'
It won't be easy after all the emotion and drama of the first round.
``These are guys we battled with,' defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. ``There are a couple of those arrogant guys you love shoving it in their face.'
Game 7 had a bit of everything.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews forced overtime with a short-handed goal with 1:56 left that was his first of the series. Burrows was sent to the penalty box 24 seconds into the extra period. But Luongo robbed Patrick Sharp on the power play, and a couple minutes later Burrows pounced on a Chris Campoli turnover and fired a shot over Corey Crawford's shoulder.
``It feels even better getting it done this way,' said Burrows, who opened the scoring 2:43 in. ``We didn't make it easy on ourselves.'
Or Luongo, who was pulled from Games 4 and 5, and benched to start Game 6.
``You always say in tough times that's when you see true character of somebody,' Luongo said. ``So obviously it was a big game in my career today.'
Despite the loss, the same could be said for Crawford. The rookie goalie made 36 saves and was the game's best player, keeping Chicago in it with a handful of highlight stops before Burrows slapped a rolling puck past him.
``He was a warrior out there,' Toews said. ``Everyone wants to talk about Luongo all the time and the superstars, but for a rookie goaltender he was amazing and I can't say enough about him.'
Similar things were said of Toews despite being held without a goal until Game 7. But with the Canucks on a power play with a chance to extend their lead, Toews split the defense off a 2-on-4 rush to set up Marian Hossa for a chance in front, and then scored on the rebound.
``That's why he won the Conn Smythe, the MVP of the Olympics,' Luongo said. ``It was a massive play by him short-handed and that's why he's the leader of that team.'
Toews led Chicago back, but unlike Canada at the Olympics, not quite all the way.
``These are the types of games that define who you are as a player and as a person,' Toews said. ``We faced four games that we were possibly going to be eliminated and we just kept fighting back and coming back. It wasn't until OT in Game 7 where they finally put us away.'
NOTES: Vancouver D Sami Salo didn't play after getting hurt early in Game 6. Keith Ballard, a surprise scratch the last two games, took his spot alongside Andrew Alberts on a third pairing. ... Chicago moved Troy Brouwer onto Dave Bolland's checking line after Bryan Bickell had surgery Monday to repair a sliced tendon. ... Fernando Pisani and Markus Kruger were back in the Chicago lineup, while 6-foot-8 John Scott, who played 59 seconds in Game 6, was scratched. ... Vancouver had 12 players with prior Game 7 experience. Chicago had five. ... Chicago is the seventh team in NHL history to force a Game 7 after falling behind 3-0.
The Associated Press News Service
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