After outscoring Alberta's NHL teams by a combined score of 12-3, the Chicago Blackhawks needed only one goal and a superb effort by Antti Niemi to topple the Canucks 1-0 on Sunday night in Vancouver.
Bryan Bickell's goal 1:13 into the third period — his first of the season — broke a scoreless tie and Niemi made 30 saves for his second career shutout as the 'Hawks (15-5-2) won their seventh game in a row.
"Spectacular," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Niemi. "What an effort. What a game. That was a goalie win, hopefully you get five or six over the course of a year and that's one. I thought our [defence] played real well, but he was spectacular."
Roberto Luongo did everything but score for his team, stopping 16 of 17 shots as the Canucks (12-11-0) had their winning streak snapped at two.
It took Chicago until halfway through the first to register its first shot of the game but it came off a flurry of chances as the Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Bickell line made life frustrating for Luongo and the Vancouver defence.
The Blackhawks trio spent the whole game making tape-to-tape passes that usually ended with the puck ending up in the slot.
Daniel Sedin — returning after missing 19 games with a broken bone in his left foot — gave his team a chance to break the deadlock in the first when he rolled to the outside of the Chicago zone and smartly sent the puck in the slot before he dipped behind the net.
Alex Burrows jammed at the puck but was swarmed by a number of Blackhawks who helped Niemi keep the puck out and pushed Burrows in, bringing the net off its moorings.
Burrows keeps busy
The Vancouver left winger kept busy — after drawing a penalty on Dustin Byfuglien for hooking, Burrows got into a scrum in front of the net where he took a high stick from Andrew Ladd, drawing another penalty.
He should have quit while he was ahead.
After getting a shove in that scrum, Burrows shoved back, earning a cross-checking penalty to offset the Ladd minor.
The Canucks' Ryan Kesler had the best chance on that man-advantage with a couple of shots in the slot, but Niemi stretched out his right leg to stop both attempts to send the game into the second period tied 0-0.
"They had nothing all night, then get a cheesy one in the third," Kesler said. "It hits a couple legs and goes right on (Bickell's) tape for a tap-in from the blue. It's frustrating. I definitely thought we should have won this one tonight. We dominated the game."
The middle frame was a bit more wide open with both teams getting odd-man chances. Kevin Bieksa fired wide on a one-time attempt and Byfuglien shot high on his chance in tight on Luongo.
Steve Bernier had a breakaway near the end of the second, but Niemi stopped the deke-to-forehand shot by sliding his pad over to deny the Canucks right wing.
The 'Hawks broke the tie 1:13 into the final frame when Kane, standing at the right boards in the Canucks zone, spotted Brian Campbell on the left side of the ice and sent a crisp pass. Campbell shuffled into the slot for a chance, lost the puck in front but Bickell was there to jam home the loose puck.
"For me it's go get the puck in the corner, feed the skill guys and get to the net," Bickell said. "Our game plan is to get traffic in front of Luongo and it worked. I got the rebound and luckily it was the game winner."
Vancouver's Mason Raymond and Campbell headed off with 7:26 to play on matching high-sticking calls that led to a four-on-four chance where the Canucks' Alex Edler hit the post with 6:20 to go.
With 16 seconds left and their net empty, the Canucks' last-gasp chance was denied when Niemi stopped Burrows in the slot to seal the win.
"Maybe the most confident [I've felt] in the NHL today," Niemi said. "I don't know why, but I didn't worry about anything else, just make the next save."with files from the Associated Press