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Canucks forwards Ryan Kesler (17) and Kyle Wellwood (42) celebrate in a 5-3 victory over the Blackhawks on Thursday. ((Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press))

The Vancouver Canucks squandered a three-goal lead before finally holding off the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night.

Defenceman Sami Salo scored the game-winning goal with 1:13 remaining to lead the Canucks to a 5-3 win over the Blackhawks at GM Place in Vancouver.

Pavol Demitra, Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Ryan Johnson also scored for Vancouver.

The Canucks take a 1-0 series lead in the the Western Conference semifinal and will host Game 2 on Saturday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 9 p.m. ET).

Vancouver gave its sold-out crowd quite the scare, letting numerous power-play chances (1-for-7) get away and blowing a big lead in the third period.

But Salo saved the day in the final 73 seconds. Chicago goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin stopped Steve Bernier on a four-on-one, only to see Salo pitch in to bury the winner into the open net.

"I saw that we had a three-on-one, and I decided to make it a four-on-one and good things happen when you stop in front of the net," Salo, who was surprised by the Blackhawks' breakdown in the neutral zone, told Hockey Night In Canada. "The puck just lurked out and it was an easy job to put it in."

Salo, who also netted the game winner in the opener of the first round against St. Louis, was a welcome addition to the Canucks' lineup. The veteran defenceman skipped Vancouver's finale against the Blues in the first round with an unspecified problem related to either a lower-body injury or general soreness.

Johnson added an empty-net tally to secure the victory.

Too much to handle

Roberto Luongo made 28 saves to earn his fifth consecutive playoff win. Heading into Game 1 against the Blackhawks, Luongo ranked first with a minuscule 1.15 post-season goals-against average and a .962 save percentage.

Kyle Wellwood also proved too much for the Blackhawks to handle. Aside from his pair of assists, Wellwood drew eight minutes of penalties.

"I'm surprised I played 20 minutes; I didn't think I was out there that much," said Wellwood. "To get that many power plays really gets me into the game and that usually helps."

Patrick Kane scored twice, and Dave Bolland chipped in with his first of the playoffs.

Khabibulin stopped 22 of 26 Vancouver shots.

The Canucks continue to have Khabibulin's number. The teams split the regular-season seasons 2-2, but Khabibulin suffered both losses — 7-3 and 4-0. Cristobal Huet won the two meetings against Vancouver.

In fact, Khabibulin hasn't beaten Vancouver since he was a member of the Phoenix Coyotes in 1998.

Vancouver made the Blackhawks pay on its fourth power play of the first period to take a 1-0 lead at 15:22.

Stationed to the side of the net, Sundin sent a hard cross-ice pass to Demitra, who converted his first post-season goal by Khabibulin.

A golden opportunity

Despite the goal, Vancouver fans had to feel nervous heading to the concession stands.

The Canucks had a golden opportunity to open the scoring earlier when Khabibulin stumbled to get back to his net after bumping with defenceman Matt Walker.

Instead of directing a quick shot, Kesler attempted to stickhandle in the slot and lost control of the puck.

The Canucks also failed to take advantage of their first three power plays in the period, including a four-minute opportunity where they didn't register a shot on Khabibulin.

Still, the Sedin twins eased the level of anxiety in the capacity crowd just 5:13 into the second.

Daniel Sedin skated around Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook before throwing out a pass in front of the net to brother Henrik. The latter Sedin made no mistake, slipping the puck between the legs of Khabibulin.

Tempers flared moments later as Chicago winger Ben Eager leveled Vancouver's Rick Rypien, drawing a scrum in the Blackhawks end.

Let another power play slide

While Eager was called for roughing, the Canucks couldn't convert on the chance.

Vancouver did appear to take command of the game with less than five minutes left in the second.

Kesler alertly moved to the slot, took a pass from Wellwood and one-timed his first playoff goal of the post-season behind Khabibulin.

The Canucks then let another four-minute power play late in the second period go by the wayside.

Kane, who served the second four minutes, gave Chicago life only 1:01 into the third. The 2008 rookie of the year picked up the loose puck and roofed a shot over Luongo.

"When they got that first goal, I think we let up and got into penalty trouble." said Wellwood. "You can just sense they were going to get a third one. Once they finally did we realized we were in a game again. Fortunately, we were able to win in regulation."

The Blackhawks then took advantage of a careless roughing penalty by the Canucks forward Darcy Hordichuk to come within one goal at 10:11. After a scramble around the net, Kane flipped his second goal of the game over Luongo.

It was Chicago's sixth power-play goal in as many games.

The Blackhawks kept coming, pulling even with 5:29 remaining. Centre Dave Bolland spotted the rebound to the right side of Luongo and deposited the easy shot into the open net.

"We can't be happy with our play in the third period," admitted Salo. "The first goal was a lucky bounce for them, but after that they kind of took over and we sat back. They make it 3-3, and obviously, it could have gone either way."

Salo's goal, however, rescued Vancover, which has only suffered one home regulation loss since Jan. 30.