CHICAGO – There?s plenty of bad blood between the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks entering their second-round NHL Western Conference playoff showdown.
But the Canucks tried their best to downplay past hostilities following an 60-minute practice on Friday at the United Center.
?There is a rivalry,?conceded Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.?(But) it makes for some good games. Every time we play them there?s some high intensity games, back-and-forth. Call it whatever you like, but for our side, we?re excited and ready to go.?
The best-of-seven series opens at Saturday (CBC, 8 p.m. ET) and continues Monday in Chicago with Game 2. The series shifts to Vancouver for Wednesday and Friday games at General Motors Place.
Intensity would be present in any playoff series, but it?s particularly evident between these Western Conference rivals who met in last year?s conference semifinals, won by the Blackhawks in six games.
?There?s animosity created after last year?s playoff run, (and) I think that?s going to be in place,?Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
This season, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews missed six games after he was hit in the jaw by defenceman Willie Mitchell last October at the United Center.
In January at GM Place, Canucks centre Ryan Kesler and Chicago?s Andrew Ladd renewed hostilities with a fight just after the opening faceoff.
Ladd, who broke Kessler?s nose in a hit during last year?s playoffs, was decked by the Canucks left winger in that confrontation.
But Kessler said at this time of year, there?s only one way to respond.
?Winning the series,?he said.?Bottom line, that?s the best way.?
Chicago has again switched bulky defender Dustin Byfuglien to forward, the same move they made in last year?s series. Byfuglien responded last year with two goals in Game 5 and an assist in the decisive Game 6 against the Canucks.
?We?re not really concerned about what Chicago?s going to do with their lineup,?said Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault.?We?re focusing on what we need to do to have success on the ice.
?We knew they have a great hockey team, they have four balanced lines, they have D?s that love to join the rush, (but) we?ve got to focus on our team and put our best game on the ice.?
The second-round series is expected to offer more time for Vancouver?s fourth line following a relatively light first round.
?In the L.A. series, they were using more of a three-line rotation,?Vigneault said.?Chicago, they do use their top players a lot but they use four lines and they have a high-pace, high turnover of really short shifts. So obviously we know that?s a challenge for us.?
The teams split four regular-season games, each winning once on the other?s home ice.
Vancouver has been idle since beating the Kings 4-2 last Sunday in Game 6 of their opening round series. The Blackhawks wrapped up their series on Monday with a 5-3 Game 6 victory at Nashville.
Center Ryan Johnson joined the Canucks in Chicago and skated at the United Center on Friday, the day after he participated in his first since practice since suffering a broken foot on April 4. Johnson was originally projected to miss 4-6 weeks. Instead, he might make an appearance during the Chicago series.
?He?s day-to-day,?said Vigneault.
If necessary, the series would return to Chicago for Game 5 on May 9, with a Game 6 on May 11 in Vancouver. Game 7 would be in Chicago on May 13.