Alex Burrows ‘saved’ Canucks with 2011 Game 7 goal vs. Blackhawks

VANCOUVER – Considering the Vancouver Canucks are now the only NHL franchise that is 0-3 in Stanley Cup Finals and twice saw a championship slip away in Game 7, it seems illogical that the two most impactful games in franchise history were in the playoffs’ first round.

But Pavel Bure’s Game 7 overtime goal against the Calgary Flames in 1994 not only completed a playoff comeback that to that point was unimaginable in Vancouver, it swept away 24 years of futility for a Canucks team that was often an embarrassment to its fans in the first two decades after entering the NHL.

Seventeen years later – at the same stage of the 2011 playoffs – Alex Burrows’ overtime winner in Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks represented far more than a first-round victory.

Programming Alert: NHL Classics

Watch Game 7 between the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks from the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs on Saturday, March 28, at 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT on Sportsnet.

Not only did it validate the Canucks’ most successful era, it saved a team that would have been blown up had it fully collapsed against the hated Blackhawks, who had eliminated Vancouver from the previous two playoffs and appeared capable of defending their Stanley Cup title after roaring back from a 0-3 deficit in 2011.

Had Burrows’ fluttering slapshot not knuckled past Chicago goalie Corey Crawford at 5:22 of overtime at Rogers Arena, the Canucks wouldn’t have marched to another Cup Final against the Boston Bruins that spring. And they probably wouldn’t have won a second straight Presidents’ Trophy in 2012, nor continued to orbit around Daniel and Henrik Sedin until the greatest players in franchise history retired two years ago without ever wearing another NHL uniform.

That’s how much was riding on the seventh game against the Blackhawks on April 26, 2011.

“What would have happened if we would have lost?” Henrik Sedin, the Canucks captain for his final eight seasons, told reporters after the game. “I don’t know. There were a lot of doubts around this dressing room from the outside. And I can see why. But I knew we’d be able to come back.”

As Burrows told The Athletic last fall: “We didn’t even need to listen to the outside noise because we knew how big Game 7 would be. If we’d lost, what would’ve happened to the coaching staff? Lou (goalie Roberto Luongo)? The twins? Management? I don’t know what ownership would have decided to do at that point, but internally we knew it was a big game.”

Before the Canucks added Burrows to their Ring of Honour in December, the retired winger told Sportsnet that his fondest memory wasn’t winning Game 7 against Chicago, but rather teammate Kevin Bieksa’s overtime winner four weeks later against the San Jose Sharks that lifted Vancouver into the Stanley Cup Final.

But nobody on the West Coast can think about Burrows without thinking about that defining game against the Blackhawks. His goal was instantly immortalized by broadcaster John Shorthouse’s call on radio: “They’ve slayed the dragon!”

The goal, however, was merely the final verse of an astounding series of events – all of them involving Burrows – late in Game 7.

The Canucks led 1-0 at 2:43 on a goal set up for Burrows by Ryan Kesler, who went around Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith, lowered his shoulder as if he was going to cut hard to the net but instead dropped a pass into a slot for his friend and linemate to convert from short range.

The score did not change for more than 55 minutes, which included Burrows getting stopped by Crawford on a penalty shot 21 seconds into the third period after Keith grabbed the Canuck on a breakaway.

Keith took another penalty for hooking Burrows on a semi-breakaway at 16:43. Burrows missed the net with that shot, but it seemed OK; the Canucks had the lead and were starting a two-minute power play with 3:17 remaining. At home in Game 7. What could go wrong?

With Chicago captain Jonathan Toews attacking shorthanded, Burrows was one of four Canucks unable to defend a two-on-four rush. Knocked to the ice by defenceman Dan Hamhuis, Toews somehow scored from his knees on the rebound from Marian Hossa’s shot against Luongo to tie it 1-1 with 1:56 remaining in regulation.

It was shocking, yet typical of what a Canucks collapse – and impending elimination and dismantlement – should look like.

Then 24 seconds into overtime, Burrows reached around Keith behind the Chicago net and was penalized for holding. So this is how the season would end: Burrows in the penalty box as the Blackhawks become the fourth team in NHL history to resurrect themselves and win a playoff series after trailing 0-3.

But on the power play, Luongo made a game/season/roster-saving backdoor save against Patrick Sharp.

“Toews faked a pass and our D-man (Bieksa) went down,” Luongo said after the game, “and he went around him and as soon as he did that, I knew there was somebody on the back door and just slid across and got it with my blocker.”

In the nervous intermission before overtime, Luongo told teammates in the dressing room: “Game 7, overtime, it doesn’t get any better than this. This is what legends are made of. This is what we dream of as a kid, and somebody’s going to take the opportunity and be a hero.”

A little over three minutes after he left the penalty box, Burrows gloved down a feeble clearance by defenceman Chris Campoli just inside the Chicago blue line.

“I’m in responsible-mode in my head,” Campoli told The Athletic for writer Thomas Drance’s excellent oral history of Game 7. “Make solid decisions. I didn’t have support — my partner is on the other side — and I see (Patrick) Kane and if I go high flippy and get the puck to him, he’s gone. Instead of going glass, I go high flippy. Unfortunately, I didn’t put it as high as I needed to.

“I’ve thought about this a million times since it happened. You can give me 100 pucks and 99 of them would go to the other side of the ice as high as the scoreboard. But that’s sports, man. That’s sports.”

With Campoli flat-footed at the sideboards, Burrows took six quick strides to the middle of ice and slapped the rolling puck past Crawford from above the hashmarks.

“I knew I was going to have a step on the guy,” Burrows said after the game, “and I just dropped it and I could see the puck was rolling, so I wanted just to make sure it was going on net. Those are tough shots for goalies to stop. It kind of butterflied or, I don’t know what the word is … knuckled right through his blocker.”

And changed the course of Canucks history – or, rather, maintained it.