CHICAGO – Roberto Luongo made sure Vancouver’s early lead stood up instead of slipping away.
The Canucks offset the Chicago Blackhawks’ speed with better puck control and tougher defence and quieted the raucous crowd at the United Center with a 3-1 victory Tuesday night that gave them a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference semifinal.
“That was our game plan tonight, not to feed their transition,” Luongo said. “The had a lot of scoring chances the last couple of games because of it. Our defencemen did a good job in front of the net.”
Even without versatile defenceman Sami Salo, sidelined by an injury, Vancouver kept the Blackhawks from getting up and down the ice like they did in Game 2 when they pulled out a 6-3 victory.
“We were able to shut down one of the most skilled and best transition teams I’ve seen in a long time,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. “We’re going to keep it high percentage. I think if we do that and play a good puck possession game, we give ourselves a better chance to win.”
Game 4 is back at the United Center on Thursday night before the series returns to Vancouver for Game 5 on Saturday night.
After surrendering eight goals in the first two games of the series at Vancouver, Luongo finished with 23 saves Tuesday, including a spectacular stop on Dave Bolland when the Blackhawks had a power play early in the third period.
Mason Raymond scored for the Canucks late in the first to give them the lead for the third straight game, and Steve Bernier’s goal during a power play early in the second put Vancouver up by two. Henrik Sedin’s fourth goal of the playoffs made it 3-0 in the second.
But Brian Campbell’s slap shot from the high circle on a power play – with Chicago’s burly Dustin Byfuglien in the crease – cut the lead to 3-1 as the crowd that had been quiet for most of the night quickly erupted, hoping that another comeback was on its way.
But Luongo didn’t let this lead slip. The Blackhawks had rallied from 3-0 and 2-0 deficits in Games 1 and 2 and earned a split, but there was no comeback this time. Luongo also made a nice stop on Jonathan Toews with about 10 minutes left when the Blackhawks captain tried to stuff the puck in from the side.
“When we did make a few mistakes in the third period, Roberto made the saves he had to make,” Vigneault said.
Luongo, who’s done some trash talking with the six-foot-three, 247-pound Byfuglien when he comes near the goal throughout the series, said he wanted to say something to him after the Canucks’ victory. Byfuglien was called for goaltender interference early in the game.
“Unfortunately after the game I was going to congratulate him, but he skated away with his head down. I’m sure we’ll talk next game,” Luongo said.
Vancouver’s first goal came as Ryan Kesler was being hit and knocked off his feet by Chicago’s Ben Eager. At the last second, he dished the puck off to Raymond, who beat Nikolai Khabibulin for his first career playoff goal and a 1-0 lead.
“I just think we came out flat,” Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith said. “They had the jump on us. It’s frustrating that way to let them get the first goal. You can’t come back every game.”
With Vancouver on a power play that started with 40 seconds left in the first, Bernier manoeuvred in front and knocked in a rebound off Alexander Edler’s shot from the point.
With both teams down a man and after a turnover by the Blackhawks, Henrik Sedin scrapped for the puck at the side of the goal and eventually poked it under Khabibulin’s pads for a three-goal lead.
“We weren’t crisp with the puck. We didn’t get it deep or get it to the net,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “I didn’t like anything about our game.”
Khabibulin made 18 saves.
Notes: Salo didn’t play after being injured in Game 2, but Vigneault said Salo was in Chicago. He could be back for Game 4. RW Pavol Demitra, also shaken up in the second game, was out with an injury and will be re-evaluated in a week, the team said. … Canucks LW Taylor Pyatt played for the first time since the death of his fiancee in a car crash in early April. “Without a doubt it was a very emotional moment for us as a group,” Vigneault said. “He played a really good game for somebody who has been out for some time.”