CHICAGO – Playing catch-up is getting old for the Chicago Blackhawks. They’ve lost the first game of their last four playoff series and now they’re in a hole against a talented Vancouver team with lots of speed and a stellar goalie.
“We know how important Game 1 is, especially facing these guys. In other series we’ve been in, we’ve lost that first game and managed to bounce back,” Chicago’s Patrick Sharp said Sunday, hours after the Canucks’ 5-1 win the night before.
“It’s not the ideal situation.”
In Monday’s Game 2 at the United Center, the Blackhawks must find a day to solve Roberto Luongo, something they failed to do in the opener.
They stormed the Canucks goalie early, but he made 17 of his 36 saves in the first period, shutting off two power plays.
“They came out with a lot of energy. We took it away by scoring the first goal,” Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin said Sunday.
“If you look at the chances it was pretty even. Luongo outplayed their goalie and that was key.”
Vancouver used its speed and depth, getting scoring from all four if its lines?something coach Alain Vigneault stressed would be pivotal against the Blackhawks.
“That was important for us, get everyone involved and get confidence,” Daniel Sedin said. “Other than that, it’s a new game. If didn’t matter if you won 3-2 or 5-1. It’s 1-0 in games and that’s all that matters.”
Vancouver beat Chicago at its own puck possession game, outhustling the Blackhawks with quickness and aggressiveness and attacking rookie goalie Antti Niemi, who was pulled after two periods.
Coach Joel Quenneville quickly squashed a question about making a goaltending change.
“Antti’s playing. No doubt,” Quenneville said Sunday.
The Blackhawks were unable to bother Luongo with traffic at the net, a strategy that was so effective a year ago when Dustin Byfuglien parked his big frame near the crease, or beat him with rebounds.
“We generated enough that, generally we’re going to find the net at least three, four, five times,” Quenneville added.
“The quality or the quantity last night was enough where we should have had more than one. I’m not concerned about that part of our game because that’s always there.”
Chicago also lost the first game of the previous round at home to Nashville before capturing the series in six games. But the Canucks play a far more electric-type offence than the Predators.
The Blackhawks also dropped the opener in Vancouver last year before regrouping to win the series in six games. But these Canucks led the Western Conference in scoring.
“It seems like they’ve gotten a lot better from last year. They’re so good offensively, you’ve got to play a puck possession game and keep it away from their big guns,” said Patrick Kane, who had Chicago’s lone goal on a two-man advantage power play in the third after the Canucks were up 5-0.
“We’re all feeling it this morning with the embarrassment of a score like that, especially in Game 1,” Chicago’s Jonathan Toews said.
“We’re disappointed in ourselves, but we’ll forget about it and move on and try to match up tomorrow.”
Quenneville cited his team’s poor play in the defensive end, especially controlling or clearing the puck, as the major factor in the Canucks’ offensive display. The Canucks’ Mason Raymond scored with 10.5 seconds left in the first period and Henrik Sedin took a pass from his brother for another goal 32 seconds into the second.
Those goals really took the buzz out of the crowd and pretty much the Blackhawks, as well.
“I think that all of the goals were self-inflicted wounds last night,” Quenneville said. “We’ve got to be better in those areas. It was what we did that generated their offence.”
It was what Luongo did that mostly denied the Blackhawks and their top scorers. He made a big stop to thwart a Kane breakaway in the first after a puck bounced away from the Canucks.
“It’s huge for a team’s psyche,” Vigneault said.”When you make a mistake and your goalie bails you out, it’s huge for the confidence and the momentum. That has an effect throughout the group.”
Luongo, who backstopped Canada to the gold medal, looks like the dominant goalie he can be, not the one who gave up seven goals in the clinching game of the semifinals against Chicago a year ago.
He got warmed up by making some stellar saves late in a first-round victory over the Kings.
“Winning that first series was big for him. Yesterday he was superb the whole game,” Daniel Sedin said. “If he plays like this, we’ll have a good chance.”