Roaring start allows Canucks to cruise
Roberto Luongo and Mats Sundin, among others, showed why the Vancouver Canucks could be a dangerous team down the stretch in a 7-3 thumping of the visiting Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday.
Luongo finished with 36 saves and was able to settle down with the benefit of an early offensive burst by Vancouver, which was started by Henrik Sedin's goal just 53 seconds after puck drop.
Sundin, beginning to find his legs under him after joining the team in early January, had a goal and two assists.
Vancouver threatened to turn the game into a laugher with a 6-0 lead by midway through the second, but Chicago battled back with three goals.
Luongo was forced to make big saves on Troy Brouwer and Jonathan Toews as Chicago threatened to draw closer in the third before Ryan Kesler scored his second goal on a breakaway to truly put the game out of reach at 13:09.
Defenceman Alex Edler provided some offence from the back end, scoring and adding three assists. Daniel Sedin and Steve Bernier also scored.
The Canucks have won two in a row after losing their previous eight. Vancouver (24-20-8) now begins a span in which seven of the next eight games are away from GM Place, beginning Tuesday in St. Louis.
The club has moved into seventh in the Western Conference, but are just six points ahead of last place St. Louis, with seven other teams in between.
"We're not out of the woods until we secure a playoff spot," said Luongo. "That's our goal and we know there's a lot of work to be done, but we're starting to play well as a team now and we're anxious to get on this road trip and spend some time together."
Chicago (29-14-8) has inflicted some one-sided beatings on NHL clubs this season, but on this occasion fell to their worst defeat of the season.
The Blackhawks got burned on four of seven short-handed turns and committed several defensive gaffes.
Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin have made a case this season for being the best goalie tandem in the NHL, but both were far from their best. Huet was pulled after the first period, stopping six of nine shots.
Rookie Kris Versteeg scored and added an assist for Chicago; Adam Burish and Martin Havlat also had markers.
"I don't think we were great mentally," said Chicago defenceman Brian Campbell. "I don't think we were prepared as much.
"Obviously some bounces happen — I think a lot of bounces went Vancouver's way. I think we had a power play there [when] it was 2-0, we had some chances, if we find a way to put it in [it's] 2-1 and changes the whole game."
Vancouver quickly moved out of their end to start the game, with Daniel Sedin's hard pass from the left boards re-directed in front by brother Henrik for a 1-0 lead.
"We wanted to really focus on our start and then we capitalized on a couple of power plays," said Kesler.
Chicago's defensive breakdown on a Vancouver power play resulted in Sundin being left alone at the side of the net for Daniel Sedin's cross-ice pass to make it 2-0 at the 3:02 mark.
"I've played 10 games now and it feels the way I expected it to feel coming in and have to keep working," The Swede, who has five points in his last two games, told Hockey Night in Canada after the first period.
Kesler took the puck toward the net later in the period and froze, throwing a pass in the slot that caromed off a Chicago skate and past Huet for a 3-0 lead.
Luongo was doing his part not to give the Blackhawks momentum by denying Patrick Sharp and Andrew Ladd.
Khabibulin replaced Huet to start the second but got a rude welcome. The goalie gave up a big rebound that Bernier potted just past the two-minute mark.
Sedin then got his 23rd three minutes later as the Canucks moved the puck around expertly on a power play, with Sundin getting the final touch on the cross-crease pass for the goal scorer.
Chicago continued to play undisciplined hockey and Edler was able to grab his fifth of the season on a slapshot from the point that Khabibulin should have stopped.
Luongo finally allowed one with 68 seconds left in the period after the Canucks got careless on a power play. Kevin Bieksa tried to corral the puck at the Chicago blue line but failed, with Versteeg skating in on a breakaway and beating Luongo with his shot.
Burish buries rebound
Chicago didn't give up in the third. Luongo stopped Ben Eager's shot, but Burish put the rebound past his left pad for goals in consecutive games.
Just over two minutes later, Havlat somehow found room between Luongo's arm and the near post and it was a three-goal margin with over 10 minutes to play.
Vancouver caught a break to ice the game, with Chicago blue liner Duncan Keith falling to the ice to give Kesler a breakaway. The forward fooled Khabibulin with a deke for the final goal of the game.
Khabibulin finished with 13 saves.
Patrick Kane has cooled off recently for Chicago, with just four points in his last 14 games.
Luongo's big saves helped prevent the Blackhawks from making it tense at the end — one of his better performances since returning three weeks ago from a groin injury.
"I'm not quite there yet, but you look at all the goaltenders around the league and there's some time with injuries," he said. "We're all human, we want to do well out there but sometimes it takes time to get back into it."
The Blackhawks were looking for their second sweep of the three Western Canadian teams after performing the feat in December. They had outscored the Canadian clubs 20-8 in the process.
The Canucks put forth a decent effort in a 3-1 loss to Chicago on Dec. 20, but that paled in comparison with Saturday's show of strength.