The well-rested Canucks had their way with the Blackhawks through 40 minutes, scoring three times and keeping the Hawks on the perimeter. But with a 3-0 lead, the Canucks appeared to shift into cruise control.
Meanwhile, after doing nothing for two periods, the Blackhawks changed up their lines and went into overdrive.
Patrick Kane cut the Canucks lead to 3-1 just 1:01 into the third period, and the Blackhawks had suddenly found their game. Kane scored again on a power-play rebound at 10:11, cutting the deficit to 3-2, and 4:20 later Dave Bolland completed the unlikely comeback with his first goal of the postseason.
With the sellout crowd at G.M. Place as nervous as 18,630 cats, Chicago continued pressing for the go-ahead goal. When Kris Versteeg, Martin Havlat, Cam Barker and Patrick Kane raced into the Vancouver zone with less than two minutes left -- and only Sami Salo and Willie Mitchell to help out Luongo -- it looked like the white rally towels might turn into crying towels.
But one deflected pass later, the comeback was on the other skate. The Canucks raced down on a 4-on-1 break, with Mason Raymond flying down the left side before rifling a pass to Steve Bernier as he raced though the middle. Bernier's one-timer was stopped by Nikolai Khabibulin, but defenseman Sami Salo was there to hammer home the rebound for his first even-strength goal of the season and put the Canucks back in front. Ryan Johnson's empty-netter finished off a 5-3 win.
"I just stepped up to the play and followed the puck and stopped in front of the net and the puck just dropped right in front," explained Salo, who has 2 goals and 3 assists in five playoff games -- all Vancouver victories.
"It's huge obviously," he said of the Canucks' rebound from the blown lead, "but that's probably the only good thing to happen in the third period. They took over in the third period because we sat back a little too much and gave them the charge."
The Canucks didn't just let down their guard in the third period, they lowered the drawbridge. Against St. Louis the Canucks didn't allow a single third-period goal. The Hawks got three on just 13 shots.
Every Vancouver player is to blame for not finishing off Chicago, they know that and are taking full responsibility. But with a win in their pockets, they don't have to worry about what might have been.
"We're thinking we didn't have our 'A' game tonight and we still won," defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "So we have a lot to improve. We got this one under our belt and now it's time to focus on Game 2."
The Blackhawks went from the exhilaration of overcoming a 3-0 deficit against Roberto Luongo, one of the NHL's top goaltenders, to the heartbreak of seeing their comeback go for naught.
"It (stinks)," defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "We fought hard in the third period and we got some bounces. We got some goals past Luongo and that's not easy. When they're defense is playing the way they are, it's pretty tough to get goals and I thought we did a good job of that.
The Blackhawks wouldn't have been in a position of having to pull a rabbit out of their hat if they'd exercised a little discipline earlier. Chicago gave Vancouver seven power plays, including a pair of double minors, through two periods. They played a man down for a total of 12 minutes and 46 seconds in the first 40 minutes, allowing a first-period power-play goal to Pavol Demitra.
"We've got to be smarter than that; their power play is dangerous and we've got to stay out of the box," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Despite the ending -- not many teams get caught 4-on-1 in the final 90 seconds -- Quenneville wasn't angry about the way Vancouver's game-winning goal was scored, though he did say his team has to be a little more careful.
"You're down, you've got to force, you've got to press," he said. "The (defense) participating is a good thing, but at the same time we have to respect what turnovers can lead to."
The Canucks managed to escape with a 1-0 series lead, but Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault was impressed by the Hawks' comeback. "They work hard and they're a very strong hockey team. They don't quit and it was a hard-fought game," Vigneault said. "They're a great transition team, and we saw that tonight especially in the third period. They made it very difficult on us, but at the end of the day we found a way to win the game -- and that's what it's all about right now."
|PPG - Pavol Demitra (1) ASST: Mats Sundin (1), Kyle Wellwood (2)|
1 - 0 VAN
|Henrik Sedin (2) ASST: Daniel Sedin (4), Steve Bernier (1)|
2 - 0 VAN
|Ryan Kesler (1) ASST: Kyle Wellwood (3), Alexander Edler (3)|
3 - 0 VAN
|Patrick Kane (3) ASST: Martin Havlat (4), Duncan Keith (1)|
3 - 1 VAN
|PPG - Patrick Kane (4) ASST: Brent Seabrook (6), Kris Versteeg (6)|
3 - 2 VAN
|Dave Bolland (1) ASST: Duncan Keith (2), Ben Eager (1)|
3 - 3 Tie
|Sami Salo (2) ASST: Steve Bernier (2), Mason Raymond (1)|
4 - 3 VAN
|EN - Ryan Johnson (1) ASST: Alexandre Burrows (1)|
5 - 3 VAN
|Rick Rypien Boarding against Adam Burish|
|Jonathan Toews Hooking against Willie Mitchell|
|Andrew Ladd Hi stick - double minor against Kyle Wellwood|
|Duncan Keith Tripping against Kyle Wellwood|
|Ben Eager Roughing against Rick Rypien|
|Willie Mitchell Hi-sticking against Ben Eager|
|Patrick Kane Hi stick - double minor against Kyle Wellwood|
|Darcy Hordichuk Roughing against Dave Bolland|