VANCOUVER – How to deal with massive Chicago Blackhawk forward Dustin Byfuglien might be weighing heavy on the Vancouver Canucks’ minds, but he shouldn’t be the team’s biggest worry.
The Canucks have plenty of other problems that must be fixed before they play the Blackhawks Friday in Game 4 of their NHL Western Conference semifinal (CBC, 9:30 p.m. ET). Vancouver trails 2-1 in the best-of-seven-series and doesn’t want to head back to Chicago for Sunday’s game needing a victory to avoid elimination.
“Chicago is not a better team than us,” goaltender Roberto Luongo said after the Canucks held an optional practice Thursday. “They are just doing a better job in front of the nets.
“We have to make sure we play hard around their goalie, just as hard as they are playing around us. That will even things out.”
Byfuglien regained his status as Public Enemy No. 1 in Vancouver by scoring three goals and crashing around Luongo’s crease like a buffalo in Chicago’s 5-2 win Wednesday. While Byfuglien may have put a face on the Canucks’ problems, he’s not the only reason Chicago has regained home-ice advantage in the series.
“He’s got a lot of the talk,” said defenceman Shane O’Brien. “Two of his goals, he was standing in the blue (crease). We have to do a better job of not letting him get in the blue.”
The area in front of Luongo has turned into a forest of Blackhawks. The Canuck goaltender has been knocked over like a bowling pin and whacked by sticks.
At the other end of the rink, none of the Canucks have shown the will or spirit to harass Chicago’s Antti Niemi.
That’s got to change said forward Ryan Kesler.
“We have to take a page out of their books,” said the Selke Trophy finalist who has been quiet so far this series. “Just get in front of his face, jam his pads, take his eyes away and bump him.
“That’s what they are doing to Lui and that’s what we are going to have to do to him.”
The Canucks power play has also gone AWOL. Vancouver was 0-4 with the man advantage in Wednesday’s loss and a limp 2-14 in three games.
Daniel Sedin said the Hawks aren’t afraid to take penalties.
“The only way you can punish them is by scoring on the power play,” he said. “It’s going to come down to special teams.
“It’s not that hard to see what is wrong. We have a good group here. We are not too worried.”
What is a worry for Vancouver is the lack of goals from the Canucks’ best players. Chicago’s line of Dave Bolland, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg have thrown a blanket on Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the heart of the Vancouver offence.
“They’re good players and we’ve got to get under their skin,” said Bolland. “We can’t have them getting space or running around.
“We’ve got to get at them.”
The Swedish twins were kept off the scoresheet in Game 3. That’s only the second time during the playoffs the Sedins were held scoreless.
Daniel has mustered a single assist in three games against Chicago. Henrik, who won the NHL’s regular-season scoring race, has one goal and an assist.
“I don’t think we have played at our best,” said Henrik, who is a finalist for the league’s MVP award. “We know we have to play better. Things are going to be different.”
The Sedins are not the only Canucks who need to step up.
Mikael Samuelsson, who was red hot in the opening round against Los Angeles with seven goals, has cooled. He’s scored once against Chicago, on a five-on-three.
Alex Burrows, who led Vancouver with 35 goals during the regular season, has two in the playoffs, one into an empty net. Kesler and Steve Bernier have not scored against Chicago.
The biggest test for the Canucks on Friday may be keeping their composure. The Hawks have several players that can get under an opponent’s skin.
Burrows took a needless unsportsmanlike conduct penalty Wednesday, which led to a goal. Daniel Sedin uncharacteristically got into a shoving match with Bolland.
“I think it boiled over a little bit last game, guys got a little bit frustrated,” said Kesler. “It’s a young team over there. Guys like to chirp a lot. They like to get under your skin.”
Luongo said the Canucks need to keep their eye on the bigger prize.
“At the end of the day it’s not about sticking up for yourself, it’s about winning the series,” said the Canuck captain. “If we have to take a punch in the face to do that, so be it.”
A loss Friday pushes the Canucks to the edge of a very steep cliff.
Chicago’s Jonathan Toews knows that’s a fall Vancouver wants to avoid.
“We’re expecting them to come out really hard,” said Toews. “We will be ready for that.
“It’s great to have a 2-1 lead, but we really want to make it into something bigger than it is now.”
The Canucks trailed 2-1 against the Kings in the first round but fought back to win the series. Kesler said Vancouver can use that experience against the Hawks.
“We are far from out of this series,” he said. “It’s ground we have been in before.