VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks hope to knock the momentum out of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Defenceman Shane O’Brien wants his team to play meaner and more physical when they face the Blackhawks Wednesday in Game 3 of their NHL Western Conference semifinal (CBC, 9:30 p.m. ET).
O’Brien thinks the Canucks need to make a statement after blowing a 2-0, first-period lead and losing 4-2 in Chicago Monday night, allowing the Blackhawks to even the best-of-seven series at 1-1.
“At the end of the day we are playing for the Stanley Cup here,” O’Brien said Tuesday. “You have to push back and show them you want it.
“Within whistle to whistle, we have to be a lot meaner and a lot grittier. They put their meat in the lineup last game and they did the job. We are going to have to come back and hold service at home.”
Hard-nosed centre Ryan Kesler turned testy when asked if momentum had swung Chicago’s way after the Canucks squandered a chance to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
“We lost a game,” Kesler snapped. “So what!
“It’s not over by any means. Being up 2-0 doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win the next two. It’s 1-1 and a best-of-five series now.”
Game 4 will be played in Vancouver on Friday, before the series returns to Chicago on Sunday.
O’Brien wants the Canucks to show more passion when protecting goaltender Roberto Luongo, who was bounced around and hit like a whack-a-mole by the big Chicago forwards.
At one point Monday, the Hawks’ Ben Eager and Adam Burish both showered Luongo with snow without facing any retaliation from the Vancouver defencemen.
“We have to be a lot more physical,” said O’Brien. “We are being a little too soft on them in front of the net.
“The refs seems to be letting them do what ever they want to Lui. Their guys are going hard to the net, snowing him, bumping him and slashing him. We have to play a lot meaner, grittier. It’s playoff time.”
Luongo has been outstanding for the Canucks, who have been outshot 71-54 in the two games. He frustrated the Hawks with some great saves, plus hasn’t been intimidated by the traffic around his crease
Coach Alain Vigneault doesn’t think his team has been too passive.
“We’re not turning the other cheek here,” said Vigneault. “We’re playing whistle to whistle. They’re playing hard and both teams know taking a penalty at the wrong time can hurt you.”
The Canucks need to improve a power play that went one-for-six against the Hawks on Monday, plus allowed Chicago a short-handed goal that tied the game.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin must return to firing pucks on goal, not making highlight-reel passes.
“We played on the outside too much,” said Henrik. “We didn’t create enough offensively.
“We know we are going to have to play better and I’m confident we are going to do that.”
Kesler said the Canucks need more traffic in front of Chicago goalie Antti Niemi.
“We could have done a little better job of that the last game,” said Kesler. “We have to take his eyes away.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is happy to come to Vancouver with the series even. The Blackhawks were whipped 5-1 in Game 1.
“Momentum is huge in the playoffs,” he said. “Once you get it you want to keep it as long as you can.
Defenceman Brian Campbell said the Blackhawks can’t afford another slow start.
The Canucks find themselves in a situation eerily similar to last year’s conference semifinal.
Vancouver took a 1-0 lead into the third period of Game 4, knowing a victory would put them up 3-1 in the series. The Hawks tied the game, then won 2-1 in overtime. Chicago went on to win the next two matches and took the series in six games.
Kesler turned grumpy with the media when the subject was brought up.
“We’re not even thinking about that right now,” he said. “Game 4 last year is out of our mind.”
Henrik Sedin said this year’s Canuck team is more resilient and able to deal with adversity.
“It’s a totally different feeling in the dressing room and on the bench during games,” he said. “Last year we were rattled over everything. Referees, opponents, everything.
“This year we stick to our game plan.”
Vigneault expects his team to be better in Game 3.
“I’m sure our players know the areas we need to improve upon and need to get better,” he said. “I’m sure our players are smart enough to analyse that (last) game.