VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Vancouver Canucks wanted to send a message to the high-octane Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday that they’re among the Western Conference’s elite teams.
A 5-1 victory probably did the trick. Missing the shutdown defensive pairing of Willie Mitchell and Sami Salo – as well as the feisty Kevin Bieksa – because of injury, the Canucks relied on strong goaltending, bend-but-don’t break defence and clutch offence to derail the Blackhawks.
“This was a statement game to let them know that it’s not going to be easy,” said Canucks defenceman Shane O’Brien. “It was a good gutsy effort. Guys were stepping up on the back end with some key guys out and that’s the sign of a good team.”
With the pre-game focus on how Vancouver’s rag-tag defence corps – which featured American Hockey League call-ups Brad Lukowich and Nolan Baumgartner – would fare against Chicago’s vaunted offence, it was Vancouver’s forwards that answered the call.
League-leading scorer Henrik Sedin had two goals and an assist, while brother Daniel Sedin added a goal and two assists. Linemate Alex Burrows chipped in with three assists of his own.
“It feels good,” said Henrik Sedin, who upped his season total to 74 points, four ahead of second-place Alexander Ovechkin. “We’re patient out there, waiting for our chances and I don’t think we gave up a whole lot the other way. Things are going good.”
The Canucks got secondary scoring too, as Mikael Samuelsson and Steve Bernier also tallied to lead the Canucks (31-19-2) to their fourth straight victory.
Jonathan Toews replied for Chicago (35-13-4), which dropped to 3-2 on a season-high eight-game road trip.
The score of the game may not have been indicative of the play – the Blackhawks outshot Vancouver 44-28 – but Toews said his team got what it deserved.
“I don’t think we had that intensity,” Toews said. “We didn’t play with the jump that we normally do. There’s going to be nights when the bounces are going to go against you, but you’ve just got to be smarter and technically you’ve got to be better in your zone.”
The Blackhawks were behind the 8-ball early, as the Canucks chased goalie Antti Niemi from the game with three first-period goals.
Samuelsson and Henrik Sedin struck 3:02 apart midway through the frame to make it 2-0.
Samuelsson had an open net after a nice feed from Ryan Kesler, while Henrik Sedin was the beneficiary of a nifty play from Alex Burrows.
Burrows, who upped his points streak to 11 games (13 goals, five assists), intercepted Brent Seabrook’s pass and fed Henrik Sedin, who took the puck to the net and eventually banged in his own rebound for his 22nd of the season.
Bernier snapped an 11-game goalless drought late in the first period, taking a Pavol Demitra feed and backhanding a shot past Niemi, who was pulled in favour of Cristobal Huet to start the second.
“I wasn’t blaming the goaltending at all tonight,” said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. “Down 3-0, I was trying to change momentum with a lot of hockey left.”
The Blackhawks responded by hemming the Canucks in their own zone for much of the period and went on to outshoot Vancouver 18-6 in the third, but the Canucks’ defence held tough.
Thanks to standout performances from Christian Ehrhoff and Alex Edler – who each logged more than 25 minutes – as well as contributions from O’Brien and Aaron Rome, the Canucks kept Chicago’s shooters to the perimeter.
When the Blackhawks did find a hole in Vancouver’s armour, Roberto Luongo was there for the save. The workhorse goalie, making his 22nd straight start, had one of his better games over the past month.
“Roberto knew we were short on (defencemen),” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “I’m sure he knew that he needed his ‘A’ game tonight and that’s what we got.”
Luongo’s best stop came midway through the third period, when somehow he gloved Cam Barker’s rocket shot from the point despite missing his goal stick.
Luongo had a bit of luck too, as Kane hit the post with a wrist shot with the score 2-0 midway through the first period.
The lone Blackhawk to beat Luongo was Toews, who backhanded a Niklas Hjalmarsson rebound into an open net 3:30 into the third period to make it 3-1.
Henrik Sedin restored the three-goal lead 32 seconds later, one-timing Daniel Sedin’s pass off the far post and in, killing Chicago’s newfound momentum.
“That’s why they won the game because every time we got something going, they found a way to frustrate us and come right back at us,” said Toews.
Daniel Sedin capped scoring with 1:26 remaining, taking a feed from Henrik Sedin off his skate and in. The goal was upheld after a video review.
NOTES: The Canucks improved to 2-1 against Chicago this season. … Henrik Sedin extended his points streak to four games (three goals, seven assists), as did Daniel Sedin (two goals, seven assists). Henrik upped his league-leading points total to 74, four ahead of Alexander Ovechkin. … Canucks C Rick Rypien missed his third straight game with the flu. F Jannik Hansen was a healthy scratch for his second straight game. … D Jordan Hendry was the lone scratch for Chicago.