Solid defence powers Canucks to Game 3 victory
Goalie Roberto Luongo said before Game 3 that his Vancouver Canucks needed to step it up in order to regain the lead in their Western Conference semifinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
His charges were equal to the task Tuesday night, as the Canucks completely shut down the Blackhawks in front of Chicago's home crowd, pulling out a 3-1 win.
"It was probably our best game of the playoffs," team captain Luongo told Hockey Night in Canada's Scott Oake afterward.
"Every aspect of our game tonight was really good."
Vancouver owned a 3-0 lead before the halfway point of the game, silencing the normally rowdy United Center. With the win, the Canucks now have a 2-1 series lead.
Alex Edler had two assists, while Mason Raymond, Steve Bernier and Henrik Sedin scored the Vancouver goals. But the real story of the night was the Canucks' defence, as it completely contained Chicago's young guns and limited traffic in front of Luongo's net.
"We were able to shut down one of the most skilled and best transition teams I've seen in a long time," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "We're going to keep it high percentage. I think if we do that and play a good puck possession game, we give ourselves a better chance to win.
"When we did make a few mistakes in the third period, Roberto made the saves he had to make," he said.
Shots at premium
Case in point: the Blackhawks' two leading goal-scorers in the playoffs, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, had two shots. Combined.
"We weren't crisp with the puck. We didn't get it deep or get it to the net," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I didn't like anything about our game."
"I just think we came out flat," Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith said. "They had the jump on us. It's frustrating that way, to let them get the first goal. You can't come back every game."
Chicago's Jonathan Toews fared better with four shots on Luongo, but the Blackhawks forward couldn't get on the scoresheet.
In fact, shots were at a premium the whole way through. Both teams were held under 30 shots on the contest, with Chicago holding the 24-21 edge.
Brian Campbell scored the lone Blackhawks tally.
The bad blood also continued to brew between the two teams, as scrums punctuated a number of stoppages.
More often than not, Chicago forward Dustin Byfuglien was at the centre of the melee, as the Canucks kept reminding him that he wasn't welcome inside Luongo's crease.
"At the end of the game, [Byfuglien] was on the ice. I wanted to congratulate him on a good game, but for some reason he skated away," Luongo said with a smile.
Game 4 in the best-of-seven series is in Chicago on Thursday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 8 p.m. ET).
Same old strategy
It didn't take long for the Blackhawks to show they weren't shying away from their strategy of disrupting Luongo, with Kane and Co. crashing his crease a couple minutes into the game and Byfuglien taking a goalie interference penalty a minute later.
But the first turned out to be a perfect road period for the Canucks as they limited Chicago to just one scoring chance.
Vancouver made good on one of the few chances it had as the team opened the scoring at 15:34 of the frame.
Forward Kevin Bieksa stopped a Ben Eager clearing attempt in the Chicago zone and passed the puck over to Ryan Kesler, who then slid it across the slot to Raymond.
The Calgary native had Nikolai Khabibulin at his mercy as the goaltender tried to dive across his net, and Raymond made no mistake scoring his first career playoff goal.
The shots were only 7-7 after the opening period, even though there were five power-play chances.
But one of the Canucks' power plays carried over to the second period, and Vancouver doubled its lead one minute in to the frame while still on the man-advantage.
Canucks keep rolling
With Kane in the penalty box, Canucks forward Bernier snuck between two Chicago defenders and banged home the rebound off an Edler point shot for his second of the playoffs.
It was 3-0 Vancouver at 8:40, as Daniel Sedin fed the puck to his brother Henrik down low. Henrik's first shot was stopped, but he jammed the puck through Khabibulin's legs and it just trickled past the goal-line for his fourth of the playoffs.
The Blackhawks cut into the Canucks lead at 11:09, as defenceman Campbell scored on a point shot while Byfuglien was parked directly in front of Vancouver goalie Luongo.
Byfuglien tried to get into Luongo's head after the goal, and whatever he said prompted the netminder to give him a shot to the face with his trapper.
In the third Vancouver limited the Blackhawks to nine shots on net, but the Canucks were lucky on a near-miss that could've made things much more difficult.
A Chicago centring pass deflected off Mattias Ohlund's stick and past Luongo, but hit iron and stayed out of the Vancouver goal one minute into the period.
That was as close as the Blackhawks came to scoring in the frame.
Chicago lost for the first time on home ice in the 2008-09 Stanley Cup playoffs.
With files from the Associated Press