VANCOUVER, B.C. – It was a lesson learned.
The Vancouver Canucks now have a taste of what the Chicago Blackhawks are capable of. What the Canucks don’t want is another serving when they face the young Hawks in Saturday’s Game 2 of the NHL Western Conference semifinal (9 p.m. EST).
“We’re going to forget about it and move on,” forward Ryan Johnson said after the Canucks’ practised Friday. “We got a win but it wasn’t the way we wanted it.
“The big thing we took from it is we had far from our ‘A’ game and still were able to find a way to get the result we needed. We know we are going to be a much improved team come tomorrow night.”
The Canucks flirted with disaster but escaped with a 5-3 victory in Thursday’s opening game of the series. Vancouver saw a 3-0 lead evaporate when the Blackhawks erupted for three goals in just over 13 minutes.
The Canucks won on a late goal by defenceman Sami Salo and Johnson’s shot into an empty net.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo said Vancouver saw first-hand how explosive Chicago can be. The Blackhawks have a big, mobile defence that can move the puck, and quick forwards capable of scoring in bunches.
“Going into the third period we knew that’s the type of team they had,” said Luongo, who gave up a third-period goal for the first time in five playoff games. “Sometimes you have to go through it to feel it.
“There is no letting up, especially with these guys, with their talent and speed. They are relentless. It’s going to take a 60-minute effort to win hockey games.”
Even though they didn’t get the win, the Blackhawks came to practice Friday believing they can compete with the Canucks.
“We were down last night but I thought we had one of our best practises of the year today,” said coach Joel Quenneville. “There is still a lot of enthusiasm in our group here.
“I think we had to build off what took place in that third period and be excited about tomorrow.”
One of the big factors in the Canucks’ four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs was the dominance of Luongo. At times it looked like the Canuck goaltender had gotten into the heads of the Blues snipers.
For, now at least, the Blackhawks have shattered that myth.
“We can more forward knowing you beat one of the best goaltenders in the NHL with three goals in one period,” said Patrick Kane, who scored twice. “That gives us some confidence.”
Questions have been raised about the health of Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. After sitting out practice Wednesday, Toews played just 13:46 Thursday and was a minus-2.
Quenneville said Toews had been “under the weather the last couple of days” but was feeling better.
Toews dodged questions about his health.
“Everyone is playing through something,” he said. “No-one has excuses. You just have to find a way to contribute any way you can.”
For Vancouver to take a 2-0 lead in the series, the Canucks must play tighter on defence. They also can’t afford to turn the puck over.
“They are a really skilled team,” said centre Mats Sundin, who had an assist Thursday but finished the night at minus-2.
“I think we have to make sure we don’t turn the puck over in the neutral zone. Once they get on offence, they are tough to stop. They come with a lot of speed through the neutral zone.”
Johnson said Vancouver may have been guilty of thinking the game was over after 40 minutes.
“Maybe we got back on our heels a little bit,” he said. “What makes us a successful team is playing that north-south game, making teams play behind their own hash marks.
“We got away from that a little bit and got a little on the hesitant side. That’s not our game.”
The Canucks will also want to improve on their power play after going one-for-seven with the man advantage. The Canucks failed to score on two, four-minute penalties.
On one, they didn’t even get a shot on goal.
Steve Bernier, who had two assists in the victory, said he expects the Hawks to come out flying in Game 2, trying to build on the momentum they gained late in the opening game.
“What we saw in the third from them, it’s what Chicago is about,” said Bernier. “They have a lot of speed, and they have size. They were pressing us extremely hard. That caused us to do some turnovers.
“It’s all going to be about doing the right thing in the right time, playing our game. If we do that, it’s going to be a tough game, but that’s the way we have been winning.”
Canuck coach Alain Vigneault was frustrated after Thursday’s game by a blindside hit Chicago’s Ben Eager put on Rick Rypien.
Eager was assessed a two-minute penalty on the play but Vigneault felt it deserved a suspension.
By late Friday, the NHL had announced no action against Eager.
Rypien was still frustrated by the play.
“It was a late hit, a cheap hit,” he said.
Eager shrugged off the incident.
“It was nothing,” he said. “It was a big hit. There’s big hits in the playoffs. It seems when ever there is a big hit these days everyone is talking suspension.”
The series returns to Chicago for games Tuesday and Thursday.