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Blackhawks return to Chicago brimming with confidence, series tied 1-1

VANCOUVER, B.C. - The young, speedy Blackhawks are back in Chicago buoyed by splitting the first two games of their Stanley Cup playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks.

They've had quite a confidence-building road trip.

Chicago clinched their Western Conference quarter-final against the Flames with a 4-1 Game 6 win in Calgary on April 27.

Now they're getting pucks past Vancouver all-star netminder Roberto Luongo, beating him eight times in the final four periods of a 5-3 loss Thursday and a 6-3 victory on Saturday.

When the conference semifinal resumes with Tuesday's Game 3 (CBC, 8 p.m. ET), they want the post-season's last Canadian team to know Wrigley Field is not the only friendly confines in the Windy City.

The Blackhawks are 3-0 in Stanley Cup play at the rowdy, noisy United Center.

"We're pretty excited about the way things evolved on this trip but it's been a special place for us to play all year," said coach Joel Quenneville.

"The enthusiasm in the building when we get back on Tuesday is going to be great."

Dave Bolland, the 22-year-old centre from Mimico, Ont., who tied Game 1 with his first playoff goal and added short-handed and empty-net goals on Saturday, said the 22,500-plus United Center fanatics will energize the Hawks.

"With our crowd there yelling and screaming, hopefully that helps us out," he said of the building where Chicago was 24-9-8 in the regular season.

"We want to make sure we go into our barn with confidence and doing what we have to do."

What they are doing is scoring.

The five goals Luongo surrendered Saturday matched the entire St. Louis total in Vancouver's first-round sweep of the Blues.

Luongo said he didn't expect to win every game against Chicago but the Canucks must play like they did in the 4-0 victory in the teams' last regular-season meeting.

"Once we get to Chicago we know we can play the type of game that we want to play," Luongo said.

They might have to do it without veteran defenceman Sami Salo who left the ice Saturday after three shifts and opening the scoring with his third playoff goal.

Salo was not on Sunday's team flight to Chicago and remained in Vancouver to receive more treatment. There was no word on his status for Tuesday.

Willie Mitchell, Salo's partner on the shutdown defensive pairing against top opposition lines, said before boarding that Salo's blistering power-play point shots will also be missed.

"But we had that happen in St. Louis, where he was out (for Game 4) and we responded and we'll do the same thing here."

The fourth game of the best-of-seven Chicago series is Thursday before the teams return to Vancouver for Game 5 on Saturday.

If necessary, the final two games will be May 11 and 14.

Rugged winger Ben Eager, robbed Saturday by a spectacular diving Luongo stick save before scoring his first goal of the playoffs for a 4-2 lead, believes the series could go the limit.

"It's a physical series," he said, "and it's going to be a long one."

Patrick Sharp, who scored twice and, along with Patrick Kane leads Chicago with five playoff goals, said momentum has ebbed and flowed between the teams all season.

"We feel good stealing a game in their building," Sharp said.

"By no means are we looking too far ahead. We know Game 3 is going to be the toughest of this series."

The Canucks have been victimized by Chicago's speed through the neutral zone and the rushes of defencemen Duncan Keith and Brian Campbell.

"They're really spreading us out," said Daniel Sedin, who leads the Canucks with seven post-season points. "They're really good at holding on to the puck and they throw long passes to our blue-line.

"They come with a lot of speed against our defencemen so it makes it really tough for them. The forwards have to do a better job on our forecheck, for sure."

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said that means forcing Chicago defencemen to turn their back on the play to retrieve pucks.

"They were facing the play all night long," he said. "They were able to hit their forwards with a lot of speed."

Notes: Saturday's loss ended a string of five straight playoff wins, tying a Canucks team record. ... Vancouver had won eight straight dating back to the regular season. ... The Blackhawks are playing in May for the first time since 1996. ... The Canucks combine for 563 games of playoff experience to 323 for Chicago.


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