The Chicago Blackhawks’ defence of their Stanley Cup title got off to a sluggish start, and the Vancouver Canucks wasted no time taking advantage.
Jannik Hansen scored on a pretty breakaway in the first period and goaltender Roberto Luongo stopped all 32 shots he faced as the Canucks began their march to the Stanley Cup final with a 2-0 win over their playoff nemesis Wednesday night.
Chris Higgins also scored for the Canucks in the opening game of the Western Conference quarter-final series.
Vancouver showed poise and confidence early, blistering shots at Chicago netminder Corey Crawford, who was making his first playoff start. The Canucks also laid on the body, mashing Hawks into the boards and leaving them flat on the ice.
By contrast, Chicago looked out of sync early in the game. The Blackhawks had trouble completing passes and couldn’t sustain pressure in the Canucks end.
“I don’t know what it was but we have to be sharper,” Chicago forward Marian Hossa said. “When the game went on we got better and better. But in the beginning of the first cost us the hockey game. I’m sure we will be sharper the next game. We will take lots of positives into Game 2. We need to get more traffic in front of Luongo.”
Game 2 will be Friday night in Vancouver. The best-of-seven series moves to Chicago for games Sunday and Tuesday.
In other NHL playoff action it was: Pittsburgh 3 Tampa Bay 0; Washington 2 New York Rangers 1 (OT); Detroit 4 Phoenix 2; and Nashville 4 Anaheim 1.
At Vancouver, Luongo earned the second post-season shutout of his career. It came against a Chicago team that has dented Luongo’s confidence and battered his pride in past playoffs.
“Its nice to get the win,” Luongo said. “We know it’s a long series. We are not going to get ahead of ourselves. We have a big game coming up and we know they are going to be ready to play. We have won the first game of the last two series as well. They’re not the Stanley Cup champions for nothing. We have to keep doing what we are doing.”
Luongo made one of his biggest saves late in the first period. Defenceman Brian Campbell took a cross-ice pass and fired a shot at a gapping net. The big goalie, who was hanging onto the far post, extended his foot to block the shot, then flopped on the rebound.
The Canuck netminder was busy again in the second period. He blocked a shot from Jonathan Toews, then scrambled back into position as Patrick Sharp steered a puck just wide.
Each stopped prompted chants of “Luuuu, Luuuu” from the towel-waving, sellout crowd of 18,860 at Rogers Arena.
The win helped rid the Canucks of some playoff ghosts. The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks have eliminated the Canucks from the second round of the playoffs the last two seasons. Chicago had won the previous five playoff games in Vancouver, outscoring the Canucks 27-12.
The Canucks, who finished first overall in the NHL with 117 points, cruised into the playoffs. The Blackhawks needed a loss by the Dallas Stars on the final day of the season to back into eighth place in the West with 97 points.
The Hawks seemed to find their game in the second period, when Luongo was called upon to make several good stops. In the third period they buzzed around the Vancouver net like angry bees.
Higgins, who was picked up at the trade deadline from Florida, opened the scoring at 7:03 of the first period. He deflected a blast from defenceman Kevin Bieksa that floated over Crawford’s glove.
Ryan Kesler was the catalyst on the second goal, even though he wasn’t given an assist. The big centre blocked a Chicago shot near the blue-line. Mikael Samuelsson fed the loose puck forward to Hansen, who beat Crawford on a breakaway.
Troy Brouwer returned to Chicago’s lineup after missing the final three games of the regular season with a shoulder injury. Dave Bolland remained out with a concussion.
At Pittsburgh, Alex Kovalev and Arron Asham scored third-period goals 18 seconds apart and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 32 shots to lead the Penguins over Tampa Bay.
Chris Kunitz sealed the win with an empty-net goal in the final minute in the Penguins’ first post-season game in their new arena. Brooks Orpik had two assists.
Game 2 is Friday at Pittsburgh.
At Washington, Alexander Semin scored at 18:24 of overtime and the Capitals rallied for a win over New York.
Semin took a centring pass from Jason Arnott, after the Rangers failed to clear the puck out of their end, and scored with a one-timer past Henrik Lundqvist.
New York defenceman Matt Gilroy broke a scoreless tie with a one-timer 1:56 into the third period, and Alex Ovechkin tied it during an intense poke-at-the-puck scramble at the crease with 6:16 left in regulation.
Michal Neuvirth made 24 saves to win his NHL playoff debut. Lundqvist stopped 31 shots.
Game 2 is Friday night in Washington.
At Detroit, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen scored midway through the second period and the Red Wings went on to beat Phoenix.
Brian Rafalski and Jiri Hudler padded Detroit’s lead late in the second period and early in the third.
Jimmy Howard made 26 saves for the third-seeded Red Wings.
Kyle Turris scored 2:16 in to put Phoenix ahead in his playoff debut. Radim Vrbata had a goal midway through the third period to pull the sixth-seeded Coyotes within two goals, but they couldn’t get any closer.
Game 2 is Saturday in Detroit.
At Anaheim, Calif., Mike Fisher had two goals and an assist, Pekka Rinne made 27 saves, and Nashville clamped down defensively on the high-flying Ducks.
Steve Sullivan got his first goal since mid-December, and captain Shea Weber also scored for the fifth-seeded Predators.
Teemu Selanne scored during a two-man advantage with 8:36 to play for the fourth-seeded Ducks, whose late-season offensive surge was no match for the imposing Rinne and Nashville’s defensive style.
Game 2 is Friday at Anaheim.