VANCOUVER, B.C. – Getting the lead hasn’t been the Vancouver Canucks’ problem against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Hanging on for the win has proven more difficult. The Canucks know that must change when they play the Blackhawks on Saturday night in Game 5 of their NHL Western Conference semifinal (10:30 p.m. ET). The best-of-seven series is tied 2-2. “We’re having good starts for the most part,” defenceman Kevin Bieksa said Friday. “Now it’s a matter of finishing a little stronger.”
Vancouver has scored first in all four games of the series. The never-say-die Blackhawks have battled back to tie the match three times and gone on to win twice, including a 2-1 overtime victory Thursday night in Chicago.
“We don’t want to play catch-up hockey, that’s not our style,” said forward Alex Burrows. “We feel we haven’t played our best yet.
“If we push the pace, and play a solid 60 minutes, we will be in good back.”
What the Canucks don’t want is to find themselves heading back to Chicago for Game 6 Monday trailing 3-2.
“Tomorrow is a big game,” said forward Daniel Sedin. “We have to win tomorrow. That’s the bottom line.”
The Canucks seemed content to try and sit on their advantage after scoring midway through the second period of Thursday’s game. Martin Havlat tied the score with 2:44 left in the third period and Andrew Ladd scored the winner 2:52 into overtime.
Veteran Mats Sundin said Vancouver can’t afford to retreat if they get ahead in Saturday’s game at GM Place.
“We have to create more offence, there is no doubt about that,” he said. “As a team, we have to create more chances.
“Sometimes when you sit on a lead, like we did last night, it’s bound to haunt you.”
Sedin wants to see the Canucks play more like they did in Tuesday night’s 3-1 victory. Vancouver used a stifling defence to disrupt Chicago’s flow but still pressed the Blackhawks offensively.
“We have to get in on the forecheck,” said Sedin. “Last game we dumped the puck in but didn’t get any forecheck going.
“The first two games we sat back too much when we got the lead. The last game was weird. We didn’t play good enough offensively but we still had a 1-0 lead going into the third. Overall, if we can play the same way defensively and get a few more shots on net, we’ll be fine.”
Coach Alain Vigneault has been criticized for forcing the Canucks to play a dull, defensive style on the road.
Vigneault argued his team took what the Hawks gave them.
“They checked really well,” he said. “They played a sound, structured game that didn’t give us a lot of room. The game unfolded that way.
“We want to continue what we’ve done through the season, find that right balance between offence and defence. We do need to have some of our players pick up their game offensively. They are aware of that.”
The Canucks also need to shoot more. Vancouver has been outshot 116-84 in the first four games.
“We have to take the shot when it’s there,” said Sedin. “It’s going to create rebounds and goals.”
The Canucks held a team meeting Friday and only the players scratched from Thursday’s lineup skated.
Defenceman Sami Salo, who has missed the last two games with an injury, did skate but is still listed as day-to-day.
Bieksa, who limped off the ice in Thursday’s overtime when he fell battling Chicago’s Sammy Pahlsson for the puck, said he was fine and would play Saturday.
The Blackhawks did not practice in Vancouver.
The Canucks were less than three minutes away from returning home with a 3-1 lead in the series. Now, they find themselves in a best two-out-of-three.
Burrows said the Canucks won’t have any problem forgetting about Thursday’s loss.
“It’s already behind us,” he said. “We’ve faced adversity before and responded well.
“We want to do the same thing tomorrow night, have a big effort, and we will be all right.”
Sundin said good playoff teams have short memories.
“There still is room for improvement in our game,” he said. “We have to bounce back. That’s what the playoffs are all about, how you respond after a loss.
“I think the biggest thing for us is to make sure we regroup mentally and come back hungry.”
If history is any guide, the Canucks face a challenge Saturday.
Dating back to 1996 Vancouver is 1-6 in Game 5’s. The Canucks are 1-4 in Game 5’s played in Vancouver.
Bieksa isn’t worried about the past.
“We’re in good shape,” he said. “We have two games on home ice. The last game is a game we think we probably should have won.
“We’ve played games in the playoffs where we haven’t played well enough to win and we have won. It evens out.”