VANCOUVER – Jonathan Toews made sure the Vancouver Canucks paid for their mistakes.
Now the Chicago Blackhawks are one win away from ending the Canucks season.
The long, lean Toews scored three power-play goals and added two assists in Chicago’s 7-4 victory Friday that pushed Vancouver to the brink of NHL playoff elimination. The Blackhawks return home with a commanding 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series.
Toews made a hard-fought victory look easy.
“It was one of those nights where you get some chances,” said the Winnipeg native. “You throw it on net and it goes in.
“It’s nice for your confidence and it’s nice to get those breaks. You don’t always expect to get lucky like that.”
The sizzling Blackhawk power play burned the Canucks for four goals on eight chances. It was the difference in the game, and could signal the end of Vancouver’s playoff hopes.
“We worked hard for those chances,” said Toews. “You have to go out there and make it worth while.
“Nothing was pretty out there. They are working hard to take time and space away. You have to work for everything out there. It’s nice to get some of those chances.”
Several of the Vancouver penalties resulted from the Canucks losing their composure.
Chicago scored on a five-on-three after Daniel Sedin was sent off for cross-checking, then Alex Burrows followed for roughing. Both penalties were born from frustration.
A sell-out crowd of 18,810 voiced their disapproval and chanted insults at the referees.
“There were a few in there that I thought were questionable,” said Canuck coach Alain Vigneault. “At the end of the night I think quite a few were deserved.
“We didn’t react well to what was happening on the ice and they made us pay for it.”
For Canuck goaltender Roberto Luongo it was like watching a bad movie, one that can’t have a happy ending for Vancouver.
“We lost our composure again,” said Luongo, who distractedly tossed a water bottle back and forth between his hands while he spoke. “I don’t know why it happened.
“We talked about it. We were all on the same page before the game started and . . . just one thing led to another.”
The Canucks trailed just 18 seconds into the game after Luongo gave up a soft goal on an innocent looking Brent Seabrook shot. For the rest of the night Luongo looked rattled and seemed distracted by big Hawks forward Dustin Byfuglien.
Chicago has scored 13 goals in the last seven periods.
Vigneault gave a stinging criticism of Luongo’s play.
“He’s the second-best goaltender on the ice,” said Vigneault. “He can be better and he will be better.”
Patrick Sharp scored Chicago’s other power-play goal and had three assists. Tomas Kopecky scored in the third period just seven seconds after a Vancouver penalty expired. Dave Bolland scored into an empty net.
Coach Joel Quenneville said Toews, who scored in Canada’s gold medal win over the U.S. at the Olympics, excels under pressure.
Daniel Sedin and Alex Edler, on the power play, Kyle Wellwood and Henrik Sedin replied for Vancouver. It was Daniel Sedin’s first goal of the series.
Game 5 of the best-of-seven series will be played Sunday in Chicago. If necessary, Game 6 will be at GM Place Tuesday.
Henrik Sedin spoke the obvious if the Canucks hope to prolong the series.
“We’re taking way too many penalties,” he said. “We’re not getting the kills that we need.
“We have to be stronger mentally and we have to just get on a roll.”
Toews’ first goal was a rocket of a shot past a screened Luongo in the first period.
He struck again just 27 seconds into the second. Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler tried to move the puck behind his own net. Instead he sent it in front of the net where Toews tipped it past Luongo. Before the period ended Toews scored on a scramble during a Chicago 5-on-3.
Byfuglien, the hulking Hawk who Canuck fans love to hate, earned one assist but played a big role on two other Chicago goals.
He drew a penalty on Vancouver defenceman Sean O’Brien that resulted in Toews’ first goal. On the power play, Byfuglien parked his 257 pounds in front of the net and screened Luongo.
Kane shrugged when asked if the Canucks had unravelled during the game.
“On our side, we took advantage of some opportunities,” he said. “The power play had a heck of a night.
“Overall we played well in the third period and limited their chances.”
Toews doesn’t expect the Canucks to roll over in Sunday’s game.
“We know this is far from over,” he said. “We really have to use this game to prepare for the next one.”
Notes: Pavol Demitra, who has two goals in the playoffs, and hardnosed Rick Rypien were among the Canuck scratches. … In an interview with ESPN, Chicago’s Adam Burish called Burrows, Kesler, O’Brien and Kevin Bieksa clowns. … Vancouver is 3-7 in Game 4’s since 2001.