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Canucks-Blackhawks Preview May 7

CHICAGO (AP) Getting off to a slow start is getting old for the Chicago Blackhawks. Keep it up and they could find themselves out of the Stanley Cup playoffs in a hurry.

In all three games of their Western Conference semifinals against the Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks have fallen into an early hole.

They were down 3-0 in Game 1 before rallying to tie, only to lose 5-3.

In Game 2, they fell behind 2-0, caught up and then took the lead on a short-handed goal on their way to a 6-3 victory.

And on Tuesday night, back at home in the loud confines of the United Center, they found themselves staring at a 3-0 deficit before the Canucks recaptured home-ice advantage with a 3-1 victory.

"I think when you're down 3-1, 3-0 whatever it was, it's tough to play catch up every game," Chicago's Patrick Kane said Wednesday. "We came back twice in this series, but you can't come back every game. I think we started to force some plays, tried to make too many pretty plays and it caught up with us."

The Canucks bottled up the neutral zone to throttle the Blackhawks' speed, protected the puck and played strong defense to take the 2-1 series lead. And they got a splendid performance from goaltender Roberto Luongo, who had 23 saves.

It's a plan they hope to extend into Thursday night's Game 4: play solid and simple hockey, keep the Blackhawks from opening up the game with their skating skills and also silence the sellout crowd that works itself into a frenzy by cheering during the Star Spangled Banner.

The Canucks are expecting the Blackhawks to come out with a ferocious rush in the early minutes Thursday.

"They'll attempt to come out strong in this building. They had a few flurries early in the (Tuesday) game, but after that we settled into our system," Luongo said Wednesday.

And he made sure Chicago didn't stage another comeback.

"It was nice once we established the lead, we kept playing our game and kept forechecking hard," Luongo said. "Not just sit back and try to protect the lead."

The Canucks could get another lift Thursday night if versatile defenseman Sami Salo, who missed Game 3 with an injury, can return to the ice. He flew in from Vancouver on Tuesday night after staying behind for treatment. He worked out Wednesday but not did not practice.

"There is always a chance for anything. We'll see how it is tomorrow and go from there," Salo said. He was hurt after scoring a goal in Game 2.

Vancouver was also bolstered by the emotional return Tuesday night of Taylor Pyatt, who played for the first time since his fiancee was killed in a car accident in early April.

Pyatt played 12 minutes and 38 seconds, had four shots on goal and blocked three shots.

"I wasn't even sure if I'd even get back on skates this season," said the soft-spoken Pyatt. "But as time sort of passed by and a couple of weeks went by, I felt the urge to get back on the team and get back on the ice. ...

"I've been back skating with the guys for a while trying to get my body ready physically. I still wasn't quite sure mentally if I would by OK until a few days ago."

Chicago's slow starts so far can also be attributed to spending too much time in the penalty box in the early going. During the three games, the Blackhawks have been called for 10 first-period penalties.

"Staying out of the penalty box is what we're going to stress and coming with more energy to start," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.

"I don't know if it's a case of us being ready and them not being ready," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said.

"We know starts are important. ... So we'll try to get ready and do the same thing tomorrow night."


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