CHICAGO – Five minutes into the game, the Vancouver Canucks were rolling. With two quick goals, they appeared on their way to a commanding lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference semifinals.
“We were a little scrambly at the beginning of the game,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said, describing his team’s play.
But by the end, the Blackhawks were solid enough. They fought off two third-period power plays by the Canucks?Patrick Sharp scored short-handed on one of them to tie the game?and then took the lead on Kris Versteeg’s goal with 1:30 left.
Chicago’s 4-2 comeback win tied the series. Games 3 and 4 are in Vancouver on Wednesday and Friday.
“We had the power play moment twice in the third period where we could have made the difference and not only did we not, they scored on it,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said.
“We’re going back home now. … We’re going to have to play better than we did tonight, obviously.”
After a sluggish performance in a 5-1 loss in the opener, the Blackhawks used their speed, played a more physical game and were able to get some pucks past Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, who still had 30 saves. He’d made 36 in the opener.
“We didn’t come in here to split. You can’t be satisfied with a split. We’re disappointed,” Luongo said.
“We had an opportunity for something really good here tonight and unfortunately we fell a little bit short. We have to make sure that come the next game at home we make some adjustments and we come ready to play.”
Versteeg, who’d been denied twice earlier by Luongo, once on a breakaway, initially lost the puck with the clock running down.
But teammate Dave Bolland dug it out and slid it to Brent Seabrook, who passed it to Duncan Keith at the point. Keith then moved it to Versteeg in the left circle and his first goal of this year’s playoffs put the Blackhawks up 3-2.
“I got pumped and lost the puck ‘Oh my goodness what did I just do?'” Versteeg said. “Fortunately I got the puck back. I was just trying to shoot as hard as I could.”
Luongo said he was in position but wasn’t sure how Versteeg got the puck by him.
“There were a bunch of guys around me,” he said.
“Once it went to the point, I got up as quick as I could and got in position and was able to get a glimpse that he fed it across there,” he added. “So I tried to get across, and I did. He just pretty much made a perfect shot under the bar and in there.”
Patrick Kane added an empty netter for the Blackhawks.
“The two in Vancouver are going to be pretty tough,” Kane said. “We know we can beat these guys now, I guess.”
The Blackhawks split the first two games in Vancouver a year ago in the semifinals before prevailing in six games.
But Vancouver is more offensive-minded and has jumped out in both games.
“It’s certainly not the way we wanted to approach it, fighting from behind,” Quenneville said. “We did it last year in the playoffs, but it’s not really the recipe for success.”
Mason Raymond had a goal, and Mikael Samuelsson added a 5-on-3 power-play score in the opening minutes when it looked as though the Canucks would take control. But Seabrook, who also had two assists, brought the Blackhawks within a goal in the first period that put them right back in the game.
Sharp’s short-handed score came at the end of a 2-on-1 break. He chipped the puck past a defender to start the rush, skated in from the right, waited until Luongo committed and then beat them with a backhand.
The Canucks had a 3-on-1, short-handed break later in the period, but Antti Niemi snuffed an attempt by Ryan Kesler to keep it at 2-1.
Niemi, in his first NHL post-season, is now 5-3 after making 24 saves, responding with a victory each time the Blackhawks have dropped a game. He’d been pulled after two periods in Game 1.
“You don’t want to get too rattled after one game,” he said. “You want to be patient. … It’s a huge win. If we’d lost, things wouldn’t be good for us.”