VANCOUVER – The Chicago Blackhawks put the Vancouver Canucks on the ropes with a pair of quick goals in the second period, then scored shorthanded to deliver the knockout blow in a 5-1 victory Tuesday to win the NHL Western Conference semifinal series.
Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg scored 36 seconds apart in the second to give Chicago a 2-0 lead. Then Dave Bolland stuck the fork in with a shorthanded goal with just 45 seconds left in the period.
“Those two goals were pretty valuable,” said Brouwer, who sat out three games as a healthy scratch. “It swung a bit of momentum our way.
“Our biggest goal was the shorthanded goal. You never want to give up a goal in the last minute of a period.”
Bolland said the Hawks wanted to end the series.
“We came out with more of an edge,” he said. “We played a lot harder. We knew we didn’t want to go back home. We wanted to finish it off here.”
Patrick Kane, on a breakaway, and Dustin Byfuglien, who had kicked sand in the Canucks’ face all series, also scored for the Hawks, who won the best-of-seven series 4-2.
The victory came one year to the day after Chicago beat Vancouver 7-5 in Game 6 to win the 2009 Western Conference semifinal.
Defenceman Shane O’Brien scored for the Canucks, who have lost in the second round of the playoffs three of the last four years. His goal came moments after Kevin Bieksa had hit the cross-bar.
Canuck goaltender Roberto Luongo was left searching for answers in a quiet Vancouver dressing room.
“I don’t know why we played the way we did,” said Luongo. “I don’t know if we just assumed it was going to happen here at home tonight.
“It could have easily been 2-0 or 3-0 in the first period.”
Brouwer scored the match’s first goal just two minutes into the second. He took a perfect pass from Patrick Sharp and directed it past Luongo.
A turnover by Bieksa resulted in Chicago’s second goal. Versteeg scooped up the puck, then skated in on Luongo, using Andrew Ladd as a decoy. He beat the Canuck goalie with a low shot.
The Canucks saw a chance to climb back into the game go up in smoke late in the second. Duncan Keith was sent off for slashing but on the following power play Bolland outmuscled Pavol Demitra for the puck at the Vancouver blue-line, then skated in to score Chicago’s second shorthanded goal of the series.
Any life Vancouver had after O’Brien’s goal was sucked away when Kane and Byfuglien scored 25 seconds apart in the third. That sent many in the crowd of 18,810 heading for the exits.
It was a another disappointing end to the season for the Canucks, who have not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since losing in the 1994 Stanley Cup finals.
Vancouver, which won 30 games at GM Place during the regular season, had lost Games 3 and 4 at home to fall behind 3-1 in the series. The Canucks responded with a 4-1 victory Sunday in Chicago to force Game 6.
The Blackhawks flew to Vancouver packed so they could travel on to San Jose where they will play the Sharks in the Western Conference final.
It was evident from the start that Chicago did not want to give the Canucks any more life in the series. The Hawks played an aggressive game, forcing the puck up the ice and swarming the Vancouver net.
Luongo slammed the door on the Hawks early. Twice he stopped Byfuglien right on the doorstep. He also stood his ground and stoned Sharp on a breakaway. That brought chants of “Luooo, Luooo” from the crowd.
Luongo also got lucky when a Kane drive rang off the post behind him.
There were some anxious moments in the second period when Canuck defenceman Christian Ehroff ran into Luongo, causing the goaltender to fall and bash his head on a goal post. Luongo remained on the ice for several minutes, but stayed in the game.
The Canucks had their chances early. Hawks netminder Antti Niemi was down and out, but Jannik Hansen couldn’t get the puck on his stick for a shot at the open net. Daniel Sedin was also foiled on a chance.
Vancouver defenceman Sami Salo surprised many by playing. He was taken to hospital Sunday after being hit in the groin by a Keith slapshot.
The Canucks blue-line took a hit when Alexander Edler left the game in the first period after being driven into the boards by Byfuglien.
The game was scoreless after the first period. It was the first time all series neither team managed a goal in the opening 20 minutes.
NOTES: For the second game in a row the Canucks did not wear helmets in the warmup. …Teams trailing 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have come back to win 22 times during NHL history. The Canucks have done it three times, most recently in 2003 against St. Louis. …. Bieksa’s two goals in Game 5 was the first time a Vancouver defenceman scored twice in a playoff game since Jeff Brown in Game 6 of the 1994 Stanley Cup final.