VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Vancouver Canucks are hoping some of the defensive lessons they learned down the NHL stretch will result in a long playoff run.
The Canucks took a one-goal lead into the third period, then outworked and outhustled the St. Louis Blues for a 2-1 victory Wednesday night to open their Western Conference quarter-final playoff series.
There was a time when the Canucks might have cracked under the pressure of defending a slim lead. But against the Blues, Vancouver flexed some muscle, cleared the front of the net, and outshot St. Louis 15-6 over the final 20 minutes.
“That’s the way we have to play,” said Daniel Sedin, who had a goal and an assist. “We learned at the end of the regular season how to play in close games.
“This is the way it’s going to be. There are not going to be a whole lot of goals throughout the series. When you get a chance to score, you’ve got to take it.”
Defenceman Sami Salo, on a blast from the blue-line on the power play, scored the other Canuck goal.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo made 25 saves and set the game’s tone when he slammed the door on St. Louis during a two-man advantage in the first period. With the Blues buzzing around like angry bees, Luongo made one of his best saves of the night, blocking an Andy McDonald shot at the side of the net.
“I just try to make every save, that’s my job,” said Luongo. “When I can make those saves it’s nice and sometimes momentum swings for us.”
Brad Boyes, on a second-period power play, scored for the Blues. It was the first goal against Luongo in 184 minutes 12 seconds, dating back to the third last game of the regular season.
McDonald said the Blues are already looking forward to Friday night’s Game 2 in Vancouver.
“We’re certainly not happy losing, but we did some positive things and we’re going to get better because that certainly wasn’t our best hockey,” he said.
Blues goaltender Chris Mason agreed the Canucks stepped it up a notch in the third period.
“They defended the lead pretty good by putting pressure on us,” said Mason, who made 29 saves. “We didn’t get the result but it’s going to be a war.”
The Canucks wrapped up the regular season with a pair of 1-0 wins over Los Angeles and Colorado.
Luongo said Vancouver can play tight defensively without sacrificing offence.
“That’s the game we want to play every night,” he said. “Even when we do play that game we still create chances offensively. It doesn’t mean we are going to sit back.
“There still will be tons of chances we can bury.”
Vancouver, who missed last year’s playoffs, looked to have the game in hand after Salo made it 2-0 at 5:11 of the second. But the Canucks’ discipline began to slip and players took some costly penalties, allowing the young Blues to climb back into the match.
The Blues, who ended the regular season with the NHL’s eighth-best power play, were 1-7 with the man advantage.
“We took quite a few penalties in the first period but I don’t think we were undisciplined,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “The penalties gave them quite a few qualify chances. Our goaltender kept us in.
“Five-on-five, I thought we got better as the game went on. We played a really strong third period. We are going to need to get better because that team has a lot of speed and skill.”
McDonald said the St. Louis power play needs to improve.
“We didn’t play very good in their zone and we didn’t cycle there until late in the game,” he said.
“We’ll make some adjustments. Our power play has been very good for us all year. We’re counting on it.”
St. Louis started the night playing a rugged game. They laid on the body, dumped the puck in the corner, won faceoffs, and tried to control play along the boards. The ploy caused some early turnovers and Vancouver didn’t get a shot on net until the game was almost 5:30 old.
The sold-out, towel-waving crowd of 18,630 howled in delight when Sedin opened the scoring on a delayed penalty at 10:03 of the first period. Pavol Demitra, who had the puck along the boards, sent a slap pass to Sedin who tipped it past Mason.
The Sedin twins combined on Salo’s goal. Henrik Sedin, who was playing without a stick, kicked the puck to his brother behind the Blues’ net. Daniel wired a pass out to the blue-line, where Salo unloaded a bullet that whistled past Mason.
St. Louis climbed back into the game after Henrik Sedin took a weak hooking penalty. On the power play, Steen fired a shot from the point that Luongo blocked. The rebound went to Boyes who buried it into a gapping net.
Blues defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo made one of the best defensive plays of the night in the second period. Alex Burrows broke free on a short-handed breakaway. Colaiacovo caught up with Burrows, sprawled on the ice, and used his stick to poke the puck away from the Canuck forward.
Colaiacovo crashed into goal post, but skated away afterwards.
Notes: The Blues are the oldest NHL franchise that hasn’t won the Stanley Cup. The Canucks are the fourth oldest team. ….The Canucks and Blues have met twice before in the playoffs. Vancouver won both series in seven games, the last in the 2003 conference quarter-final….canuck scratches were D Rob Davison, D Ossi Vaananen, F Taylor Pyatt and F Jannik Hansen.