Canucks relentless against Blackhawks
Five straight goals, and Chicago left to wonder what went wrong
CHICAGO -- Vancouver goals with 10 seconds remaining in the first period and 32 seconds into the second gave the Canucks a 3-0 lead, sucked the air out of the United Center Saturday night and put the Chicago Blackhawks into too large a hole to dig out.
Not that they made much of an effort to dig out.
The final was 5-1, giving the Canucks a 1-0 lead in a best-of-seven semifinal series expected to be high on fast-paced, highly skilled hockey, and leaving the Hawks' loss of home-ice advantage the least of their concerns.
A slew of turnovers, mostly on the offensive end and a generally lethargic-looking effort by the Hawks team chased rookie Antti Niemi for the start of the third period seemingly just as he had arrived this postseason as a goalie to be reckoned with in the postseason.
And before it was over, the unthinkable -- a loud smattering of boos and fans rushing for the exits halfway through the final period, some two hours after the usual pregame mayhem only raised the anticipation for a closely contested game and a strong effort by the home team.
"We didn't make them defend very well or very much," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. "From the start, we wanted to make sure we kept coming in waves and that didn't seem to really materialize."
Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo, tortured last postseason by Patrick Kane's series-clinching hat trick, stopped 17 shots in the first period and 36 of 37 in all, while he and his teammates killed two power plays to set the tone for what would be a long evening for the Hawks.
Vancouver scored first when Patrick Sharp screened Niemi on a shot by Christian Ehrhoff. The Canucks then went up 2-0 with 10.5 seconds left in the first off a wrister by Mason Raymond following a save but long rebound off Niemi on a shot by Ryan Kesler.
Kane had perhaps the best scoring chance for the Hawks in the first, missing from the right side on a rebound, and was also stopped on a breakaway when Alexander Edler hooked him from behind, forcing a weak shot. The Hawks then failed to capitalize on the power play, when Luongo turned away a shot by Jonathan Toews and a rebound attempt by Dustin Byfuglien.
"You have to give [Luongo] credit," Kane said. "Sometimes you've just got to tip your cap to the goaltender and say 'Job well done.' "
Worried Hawks' fans barely had the chance to settle back into their seats for the second period when Duncan Keith's turnover set up a sequence that culminated with a Henrik Sedin goal off an assist by brother Daniel 32 seconds in.
The Hawks barely came in contact with Luongo all night as the Canucks went up 5-0 on goals by Kyle Wellwood and Michael Grabner before the second period came to a close, making it an easy decision for Quenneville to insert back-up goalie Cristobal Huet for his first action in a month, in the third period.
"I'm not blaming goaltending at all," Quenneville said, echoing his players. "They were around the net, getting second and third opportunities, and that's where we have to be better."
Hawks players were resolute that they did not lack intensity.
"It's pretty easy to get up when there's 20,000 people in the stands who have been waiting for a week and we've been waiting for a week," Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell said. "To come out flat is unacceptable. But I'm not saying we came out flat. Our second period was a bit lackadaisical and going down 3-0 hurt. We Just need to be better in all areas."
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.