Something happened to the Canucks on their way to getting in the face of Chicago goalie Antti Niemi: they suffered a huge meltdown and Jonathan Toews made them pay.
The Blackhawks scored four power-play goals, including three by captain Toews, in a 7-4 victory Friday night at General Motors Place in Vancouver.
Toews, who didn't score in the first three games of the Western Conference semifinal, notched his first NHL playoff hat trick and added two assists to tie a Chicago single-game post-season record with five points.
"I think we all did as a team," Toews said when Hockey Night in Canada's Scott Oake asked if he entered Friday's game thinking he needed to raise his level of play. "Personally, you want to take it upon yourself to make big plays, whether or not you're scoring goals. You want to contribute somehow in these big games.
"We came [to Vancouver] to get two wins and we're happy to pull it off tonight."
In Game 3, Toews' linemate, Dustin Byfuglien, posted his first three-goal game in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It marks the first time two Blackhawks have had back-to-back hat-trick outings in the post-season since Tony Amonte and Gary Suter in 1994 against Toronto.
"It's always nice to score goals and I've said it before it gives you confidence to play at both ends of the rink when you see pucks go in," said Toews, who moved into the playoff scoring lead with 18 points, one more than Detroit's Johan Franzen.
Chicago returns home with a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and a chance to advance to the West final for the second straight season. Game 5 is Sunday at 8 p.m. ET (CBC, CBCSports.ca).
"Coming here and winning both games is a huge plus," said Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville. "You got a lot of momentum, you want to go home and try to take advantage of it, but we have to be smart and disciplined."
Perfect when up 3-1
The Blackhawks have a 13-0 record all-time when winning the first three of four games in a playoff series.
On Friday, their top forward line of Toews between Patrick Kane and Byfuglien combined for eight points for the second game in a row. Kane collected two assists and Byfuglien a single, but the latter was effective in parking his six-foot-four, 257-pound frame in front of Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, who allowed six goals on 33 shots.
Forward Patrick Sharp also scored and added three assists, with Brent Seabrook, Tomas Kopecky and Dave Bolland, into an empty net, rounding out the Blackhawks' scoring.
Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Kyle Wellwood and Alex Edler replied for Vancouver, which is 3-7 in Game 4's since 2001. Alex Burrows recorded two assists.
Toews, who had three assists in Game 3, set the tone Friday night, setting up Seabrook for a goal 18 seconds after the opening faceoff and has five goals and 17 points during a seven-game points streak.
The Winnipeg native scored his first goal of the series at 9:23 of the first period to break a 1-1 tie. With Byfuglien setting up a screen and Luongo looking to his left to find the puck, Toews beat him on the blocker side.
Wellwood opened the scoring for Vancouver, answering Seabrook's second goal of these playoffs at the 94-second mark. Much like Byfuglien in Game 3, he parked himself at the top of the Chicago crease and batted a Mikael Samuelsson pass by Niemi.
After Byfuglien caused havoc in Wednesday's game, Vancouver vowed to create net traffic in hopes of getting Niemi off his game. While it was somewhat evident in the first period Friday, Canucks players lost their heads in the second and began a parade to the penalty box.
"There's no explanation. We lost our composure again. I don't know why it happened," Luongo told reporters.
"We talked about it, we were all on the same page before the game started and, I don't know — there's emotion, no doubt, it's the playoffs. But we're playing to win and everything we do on the ice we have to do for the benefit of the team."
Luongo rattled, distracted
At times Luongo looked rattled and seemed distracted by Byfuglien.
"I think Roberto is the second-best goalie in the series," said Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault. "But that will change."
With the score 2-2, Toews found the net 27 seconds into the second period with Sami Salo off for holding. On a shootaround, the puck deflected off the skate of Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler to Toews, who directed the puck to the corner with Luongo sliding the other way.
"I just kind of one-timed it," he said. "It was just one of those nights where everything seemed to go in for me."
Later, Daniel Sedin was whistled for interference and cross-checking on separate occasions and watched Sharp and Toews capitalize.
"We didn't react well to what was going on on the ice and they made us pay for it," Vigneault said. "I really believe that this group is ready … for this moment. But obviously our actions are proving me wrong. The series is not over and right now it's about winning the next game. That's our focus."
The Canucks have allowed 17 power play goals against in the playoffs, including six in the past two games, and HNIC analyst Craig Simpson believes there's a constant in their struggles when down a man.
"They're not taking away passing lanes, they're not getting in shooting lanes and they're getting some bad breaks," Simpson said. "Chicago's been able to dictate what they want. They crash the net, they outman the Vancouver Canucks. We've seen many times a lot of Vancouver jerseys and bodies but nobody's taking away lanes. On the hat-trick goal by Toews, there were four [Canucks] guys standing but nobody closing the gap."
One of the few positives for Vancouver was its 2-for-4 performance on the power play. The Canucks entered Friday in an 0-for-8 funk with the extra man and 8-for-38 in these playoffs.