Distracting Luongo at top of Blackhawks' wish list
Canucks goalie posted 2 regular-season wins, .923 save percentage against Chicago
One of the few Chicago Blackhawks to get the better of Roberto Luongo this season, forward Patrick Sharp is quick to note there isn't a set recipe to beating the Vancouver Canucks goaltender.
While Sharp scored twice on Luongo in a 4-2 home win on Oct. 19, neither would find a place on a DVD of his career achievements.
"One was a pass to [rookie left-winger] Kris Versteeg back-door that went off a Canucks defenceman and in the net," Sharp told CBCSports.ca prior to the opener of an NHL Western Conference semifinal against Vancouver on Thursday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 8:30 p.m. ET).
"The second was a wrist shot from the slot that hit a defenceman, went off both posts, hit Luongo in the back and in [the net]."
But those are the types of goals the Blackhawks will need, Sharp said, if they hope to prevail in the best-of-seven series.
The to-do list for Chicago goes something like this: get numerous pucks to the Canucks net, plenty of traffic in front of the six-foot-three, 205-pound Luongo, and try to score ugly goals off deflections and rebounds.
Compounding matters for the Blackhawks, who couldn't beat the Montreal native on 26 shots in a 4-0 loss on March 29, is the fact Luongo and his teammates are well rested. They haven't played since completing a four-game first-round sweep of St. Louis on April 21.
Luongo enters the conference semifinals with a 1.15 goals-against average and .962 save percentage in these playoffs. In the regular season, he won 33 games in 54 appearances with a 2.34 GAA and .920 save percentage. His nine shutouts were second only to Columbus rookie Steve Mason, who had 10.
"It's obvious he's one of the best goaltenders in the league," said Sharp of Luongo, who missed 24 games this season with a groin injury. "Anytime you gotta guy like that in net [brimming] with confidence, it's going to be tough."
Luongo won two of his three starts versus Chicago and sported a 2.36 GAA and .923 save percentage.
"We're going to do our best to outwork him, to get him off his game and win the series," said Sharp, who has shown no ill effects from late-season surgery to repair tendon damage in his right knee.
In the last two encounters, the Blackhawks were outscored 11-3 and drew 63 minutes in penalties in the March 29 contest at Chicago.
The Blackhawks found themselves in a 6-0 hole midway through the second period of a 7-3 setback on Feb. 7 at Vancouver's GM Place.
"They're a hard-working, blue-collar team that plays very physical, and they play in-your-face style of hockey," said Sharp, who has three goals and six points in the first six games of this year's playoffs.
'We've got to be aware of their skill guys'
"Not only do we have to play them physical and play them difficult, we've got to be aware of their skill guys, guys like [forwards Ryan] Kesler and [Alex] Burrows," who scored 26 and 28 goals respectively in the regular season.
"You look at the [physical] way they play, the amount of goals they score, it's going to be tough."
But Sharp and company should be ready following a physical six-game playoff victory over the Calgary Flames, Chicago's first post-season series win since 1996.
Twelve Blackhawks have scored in the 2009 playoffs and six have six or more points, led by Versteeg with seven (two goals, five assists).
"A lot of different guys have stepped up, and that makes us feel good about our team," right-winger Patrick Kane told Chicago reporters this week. "We have unsung heroes and role players that have stepped up. We don't want to stop here. Let's keep going."
This marks the third post-season meeting of all-time between the Blackhawks and Canucks. Chicago swept Vancouver in the 1995 conference semifinals after falling in five games to the Canucks in the 1982 West finals.
On the injury front, Vancouver's top defensive pairing of Sami Salo (lower body) and Willie Mitchell (general soreness) returned to practice earlier this week.