The Chicago Blackhawks used a pair of two-goal flurries to bury Vancouver 5-1 on Tuesday night and end the Canucks' season once again.
Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg scored off rushes 36 seconds apart early in the second period to open the scoring, and Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien added the daggers in a 25-tick span in the third to turn what was a two-goal game into a rout.
It's the second year in a row that Chicago has eliminated the Canucks in six games in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.
This one, which came a year to the day after the Blackhawks' 7-5 win in Game 6 of the 2009 Western semifinals, is especially painful because No. 3 seed Vancouver looked superb in delivering a 5-1 thrashing in the series opener in Chicago.
But the Canucks lost four of the next five games, including all three played in Vancouver — a stunning outcome, considering the Canucks matched Washington for the most home wins in the NHL (30) in the regular season.
"If you would've said before the series we'd win two games in Chicago and still lost the series, we probably wouldn't have believed it," defenceman Shane O'Brien, who had Vancouver's only goal, told Hockey Night in Canada.
"For whatever reason, we just couldn't seem to put our game together on home ice."
The second-seeded Blackhawks will face the top-ranked San Jose Sharks with a trip to the Stanley Cup final at stake. Game 1 will be played in California, likely Friday or Sunday.
"We gave it all we had against [the Canucks] and now we've gotta try and do that in the next round," Versteeg told HNIC after his team moved a step closer to capturing Chicago's first Cup since 1961 — the longest active drought in the NHL.
Luongo shelled again
Dave Bolland had the other Chicago goal, a short-handed breakaway effort in the final minute of the second period that gave the Blackhawks a 3-0 lead.
Vancouver GM Mike Gillis can keep the core of his roster virtually intact for next season if he desires, as none of the Canucks' pending unrestricted free agents are considered star players.
The list includes forwards Pavol Demitra, Kyle Wellwood and Ryan Johnson, defenceman Willie Mitchell (who's been out since January with a concussion), and backup goalie Andrew Raycroft.
The restricted free agents are forwards Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen and Tanner Glass, and defencemen Shane O'Brien and Aaron Rome. — JC
O'Brien got the Canucks on the board early in the third, but Kane and Byfuglien put the game away with their one-two knockout punch 4½ minutes later.
After a scoreless first period, Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo gave up five goals on 23 shots over the final two frames — the third time in the series he was beaten at least five times.
The Canucks captain, who was coming off a 4-1 win in Game 5 that staved off elimination, heard some Bronx cheers from the home crowd when he made a routine save after Chicago made it 5-1.
"At the end of the day, I don't think they're a better team than us," Luongo said. "But maybe a smarter team that knows how to win."
Rookie Antti Niemi stopped 29 of 30 shots for the 'Hawks.
Salo guts it out
Vancouver defenceman Sami Salo showed plenty of guts by electing to play a couple days after being sent to hospital by a Duncan Keith slapshot that nailed him in the groin area. Salo logged a robust 19:32 of ice time, including 2:42 on the power play and 1:56 short-handed.
Salo told Hockey Night in Canada during the first intermission that he felt good about his mobility.
"It's not bad," he said. "You don't want to miss these games. You want to be out there."
The Canucks, though, suffered another blow to their battered blue-line in the first period when Alexander Edler was smashed into the end boards by beefy Byfuglien. Edler didn't return, and after the game he was wearing a walking boot.
The rest of the Vancouver defence couldn't pick up the slack, and could even shoulder most of the blame for the first two Chicago goals.
A botched pinch by O'Brien allowed the Blackhawks to flip the play quickly up ice for Patrick Sharp to feed Brouwer for a slick redirection over the glove arm of Luongo that opened the scoring exactly two minutes into the second period.
Vancouver fans scarcely had time to lament that one when defenceman Kevin Bieksa coughed up the puck in the neutral zone to Versteeg, who kept the puck on a two-on-one rush, dragged it into the middle and whipped a shot past Luongo's blocker side to make it 2-0.
Kesler played hurt
The Canucks' forwards weren't much better. The high-scoring Sedin twins were held without a goal for the second straight game, while Ryan Kesler, who recorded an assist for his first point in four contests, said afterwards that he's been dealing with a shoulder injury.
Kesler had 10 points, but just one goal, in 12 playoff games after a breakthrough regular season in which he finished third on the team with 75 points.
"It's the playoffs. You gotta play hurt, you gotta play injured," Kesler said, initially refusing to reveal his exact injury before adding: "Obviously, the shoulder has been bothering me for a while."
"I'm not sitting here making excuses. I've gotta play through it. I didn't have my best series, and it hurts."