VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Chicago Blackhawks pushed the Vancouver Canucks to the brink of playoff elimination Saturday, but they know their hardest work still lies ahead.
Dave Bolland snapped a 2-2 tie with a power-play goal late in the third period, and bruising winger Dustin Byfuglien scored twice, as the Blackhawks defeated the Canucks 4-2 in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal.
Chicago now leads the best-of-seven series 3-2 and can send Vancouver packing with a win Monday night in Chicago.
“There are no guarantees at all,” Bolland said. “We have to be ready for that game.
“They are going to come out hard and not give up. They are a good team. We can’t take them lightly.”
Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo all but guaranteed the Canucks will be back at GM Place for Game 7 on Thursday night.
“I know a lot of people are going to write us off but we believe in this locker-room we can win,” said Luongo. “We’re going to regroup.
“We’re going to come Monday and we’re going to play the hardest game we’ve played all year, make sure we play our best game on the ice, and bring us back here.”
The winning goal came after a careless high-sticking penalty by Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa.
With the Blackhawks pressing for the goal, Patrick Kane sent a cross-ice pass to Bolland, who fired a high shot over a sprawled Luongo with just over five minutes left in third.
Bolland, who was mobbed by his teammates after the goal, said the hardest part was trying to be patient and make sure the puck went in the net.
“I didn’t want to mishandle it,” he said after scoring his fourth of the playoffs, all in Vancouver. “Roberto Luongo is a good goalie. Sometimes he can throw that stick back and save it.
“I was just taking it slowly and not getting over confident or over stickhandling the puck.”
Bolland’s goal silenced a sellout crowd of 18,620 and moved the Blackhawks to within one game of appearing in their first conference final since 1995.
Frustrated Vancouver forward Ryan Johnson said the Canucks are beating themselves.
“We continue to shoot ourselves in the foot from that standpoint, penalties at the wrong time of the game,” he said. “I’m not going to waste energy on whether the calls were right or wrong.
“Whether they are or not, we can’t put ourselves in situation to give (the referees) a choice.”
Martin Havlat scored the other Chicago goal into an empty net, while defenceman Brian Campbell added two assists.
Mats Sundin had a goal and an assist for the Canucks. Ryan Kesler also scored on the power play.
Byfuglien has been a thorn in the Canucks’ side all series, parking his big body in Luongo’s crease and swatting away Vancouver players like flies. On Saturday he showed he has soft hands to go with his bulk.
“I felt like I could of have a few (goals) early on in the series,” he said. “Tonight was the night.”
Vancouver was looking to rebound after a heartbreaking, 2-1 overtime loss in Game 4 in Chicago.
The Blackhawks set the tone for Saturday’s game by using their speed to push the puck into the Vancouver zone and their size to force turnovers.
The Canucks stood their ground and didn’t wither under some early pressure, but as the game progress, cracks started to show.
Vancouver was outshot 20-10 over the final two periods and at times looked like a beaten boxer barely hanging at the end of a round.
Luongo said the Canucks can play better.
“It’s not what they’re doing, it’s more what we’re doing,” he said. “We made some mistakes and when we do that, they scored.
“I know how we’re going to respond. It’s not a problem.”
It was a bruising game, with each side dealing out thunderous hit. Vancouver’s Rick Rypien led the Canucks with six hits, the same number that Byfuglien dealt out for Chicago.
Byfuglien opened the scoring at 15:27 of the first period. Campbell fired a shot from the blue-line that Luongo stopped. Byfuglien put the rebound into a gapping net.
It was the first time in this series, and only the second time during the playoffs, Vancouver gave up the first goal.
Kesler got Vancouver’s first goal on a power play at 17:54 of the first period after Andrew Ladd was sent off for roughing. The gritty forward deflected a Kyle Wellwood pass through the legs of Chicago goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.
Sundin put Vancouver ahead 2-1 at 11:16 of the second. The veteran centre showed flashes of his old self, letting a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that beat Khabibulin on the short side.
Byfuglien’s second goal, on a power play at 18:22 of the second period, tied the game 2-2 after he took a pass from Campbell in the slot and fired a shot through traffic that beat Luongo.
The Blackhawks controlled much of the first period but it was Khabibulin who needed to make some early saves. He got a right pad on a Taylor Pyatt shot from the lip of the crease, then stoned Henrik Sedin from just in front of the net.
Luongo came up big in the second period, getting a pad on Ben Eager’s blistering shot from the slot.
Notes: Canuck defenceman Sami Salo returned to the lineup after missing two games with an injury. …Dating back to 1996 Vancouver is 1-7 in Game 5’s and 1-5 in Game 5 played in Vancouver. …The last time the Canucks won Game 5 of a playoff series was a 5-3 win at home against the St. Louis Blues in the in the 2003 Western Conference quarter-finals. …Three Canucks, Rypien, Wellwood and Mason Raymond played their first playoff games this year compared to 11 for Chicago.