Depleted Canucks avoid playoff extinction
There were plenty of deficiencies to remedy in the Vancouver Canucks' game after their back-to-back losses at home put them behind in their second-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Canucks certainly exhibited a willingness to correct their flaws, but can they continue to play the way they did in their impressive 4-1 victory on Sunday and overcome the loss of veteran defenceman Sami Salo?
Salo was hospitalized after blocking a shot in the midsection from Chicago's Duncan Keith in the dying seconds of the first period. The Canucks would not disclose the nature of the ailment, but the word around the United Center after the game was that Salo had suffered a ruptured testicle.
The five remaining defencemen, especially Kevin Bieksa with his two-goals, one-assist performance, deserve plenty of credit for stepping up in Salo's absence. Already without their top shutdown defenceman in Willie Mitchell (concussion), Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, Alexander Edler, Shane O'Brien and Andrew Alberts stepped up to fill the void.
"We're not a better team with Sami out of the lineup," said Bieksa, who scored the game-winner. "But it gives guys an opportunity to step up and play more minutes. You get comfortable, but we're hoping to get him back for next game."
The 28-year-old Bieksa of Grimsby, Ont., never has met expectations after his brilliant 12-goal, 42-point year in his first full season for the Canucks in 2006-07. But he certainly returned to form for one evening. He was second on the Canucks in ice time with 27 minutes and four seconds, just 19 seconds shy of Edler.
"I was just trying to chip in like everybody else," Bieksa said. "When you're losing games everybody can look at themselves and say 'I can play better.' I'm no different."
There was a time in the second period when it appeared the Canucks would be reduced to four defenceman after O'Brien suffered a nasty gash as the result of a follow through from the stick of Chicago's Dustin Byfuglien.
O'Brien was bleeding profusely. But he had some glue applied to his wound and didn't miss a shift. He then received six stitches to close the gash in the intermission.
"I know my mom will be probably calling me, making me wear a visor," O'Brien said. "Sorry mom on Mother's Day to scare you like that, but I'm okay."
The Canucks were okay in many areas of their game. In order to cut the Blackhawks' series lead to 3-2, Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo was diligent in his rebound control, something that was not the case in Vancouver.
The Canucks also kept their emotions in check and for the most part stayed out of the penalty box after giving the Blackhawks 14 power plays in Games 3 and 4. Vancouver only gave its opponent four man-advantage situations this time.
They also were able to slow the swift-skating Blackhawks by taking away the stretch pass with a good fore-check.
"Maybe we frustrated them," Bieksa said. "We had guys taking pucks in the face, punches in the face, sticks in the face. [Luongo] was taking shots. But everybody sucked up and made sacrifices."
Luongo made 29 saves for the victory.
"I was fighting to see through the traffic there and was able to gobble them up," he said. "They were coming to me and I was able to get gloves on it."
The Canucks led 2-0 after the first period on goals from Ehrhoff and Bieksa and increased that lead to 3-0 midway through the second period on a power-play goal from Bieksa.
Chicago's Jonathan Toews redirected a Keith shot with 7:09 left, but Alex Burrows added an empty netter.
The trick for the Canucks now is to win a game at GM Place. They have twice been able to tame the noisy capacity crowd of 22,192 at the United Center in three tries, but have yet to win at home in this series. In fact, the road team has won four of the five games in this series.
"Why do you bring that up now?" Bieksa said. "We will be out to change that. If we play the way we did tonight there is no reason why we shouldn't win at home.
"I don't know what home ice advantage means anymore. You go on the road and you try to weather the storm and simplify your game."