VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks hope to use one of their best games of an up-and-down, injury-riddled season as a springboard to better things in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Chicago Blackhawks plan to forget one of their worst efforts – perhaps their only poor game, start to finish, all season – of a dominant season as fast as they can.
Led by four points from Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and buoyed by an effective new second line, the Canucks clinched their fifth-straight Northwest Division title on Monday with a convincing 3-1 win against the NHL-leading Blackhawks at Rogers Arena.
"If we play like we did today I think we're good," Daniel Sedin said after setting up Zack Kassian's goal midway through the second period, and scoring on a breakaway in the final minute of the period. "This was one of the more complete games [all season]. Tonight was a step in the right direction."
Sedin said it didn't mean any more against a bitter rival, snapping an 11-game point streak and handing Chicago just its sixth regulation loss all season.
"I don't think it matters but the way we played was nice," he said. "We want to go into the playoffs playing really well."
Jannik Hansen also scored and Cory Schneider made 24 saves for the Canucks, who are locked into the third seed in the Western Conference behind Chicago and the Anaheim Ducks, who clinched the Pacific Division on Monday.
Vancouver also won the season series against Chicago (2-0-1), a team the Canucks have met in three of the last four playoffs.
"If we keep playing like this, I can't promise anything, but we are going to give ourselves a good chance," said Henrik Sedin, who had two assists. "We got everyone back, rolling the lines, there was no hesitation, the D was pinching, the forwards were covering for them, easy breakouts, just overall a good feeling."
Daniel Carcillo ended Schneider's shutout bid with 8:10 left after a clearing attempt from behind the net hit the referee's skate and bounced right to the Chicago forward at the side of the with the goalie out of position. That was as close as the Blackhawks got, and it could have been a lot worse if not for Corey Crawford, who made several spectacular stops among his 29 saves.
"Worst game of the year," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We got outworked. They played hard. … They had the playoff intensity and we didn't respond."
It may have been a costly loss for the Blackhawks, who still have a three-point lead on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Presidents' Trophy, but played the final two periods without second-line center Dave Bolland because of a groin injury.
Quenneville didn't think it was serious, but said Bolland would be re-evaluated Tuesday.
As for the game, he was planning to throw it out even sooner.
"I'm not concerned at all. We will throw it in the garbage can," said Quenneville, who earlier in the day was able to single out just three bad periods all season for the Blackhawks. Now he has an entire game.
"It was one game this year we can say we weren't at the level that's needed from start to finish," he said.
Playing with 20-year-old defenseman Frank Corrado making his NHL debut in their top-four, and debuting a loaded-up second line with Selke Trophy winning center on right wing with trade deadline addition Derek Roy and Chris Higgins, the Canucks set a physical tone early and controlled the game for long stretches.
It was Chicago's worst defeat since the 6-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on March 8 that ended the Blackhawks' NHL record-setting 24-game point streak to start the season. Crawford was the only reason it wasn't more one-sided early, sprawling across to get his outstretched blocker on Higgins' one-touch on a 2-on-1 feed from Roy 3:30 in, then flashing his glove windmill style to stop Jason Garrison on a one-time blast and Roy on another 2-on-1 break.
"They do like to run around in their building and we were just trying to weather the storm," said Croawford, who had little chance when the Canucks finally beat him after Niklas Hjalmarsson was penalized for a charge on Daniel Sedin.
Garrison's one-timer from the right point deflected twice – first off defenseman Johnny Oduya's stick and then off Hansen's skate – before beating him just inside the post. It was the eighth goal in 10 games for a Canucks' power play that had been near the bottom of the NHL for most of the season, clicking at better than 25 per cent over that stretch after being half that before the streak.
It was also just the second goal surrendered by the Blackhawks' fourth-ranked penalty killers in 17 games, a run that saw them kill 35 of 36 coming in. It may have been a costly attempt, as centers Bolland and Marcus Kruger both left for the dressing room soon after. Only Kruger returned for the second period, taking Bolland's place on the second line for the remainder of the game.
Chicago failed to get a shot on its first power play midway through the second period, and Kassian, who only plays the first shift after a penalty kill with the Sedin twins, doubled the lead on the next shift, parking atop the crease to shovel Daniel Sedin's pass from behind the net between Crawford's legs.
The goal set off a pair of celebrations.
The first was by Kassian, who scored five goals in the first seven games of the season, but had only found the back of the net once more since. The next was a standing ovation from the sellout crowd for Daniel Sedin, who passed former captain Markus Naslund for second place in franchise scoring with 757 points, 33 behind twin brother Henrik, who recorded the second assist.
"Second place, I don't know how big a deal that is, but it was nice," Daniel said with a smile of the ovation.
The Sedins had the crowd back on its feet with 43.8 seconds left in the period. After Schneider made a great save off Duncan Keith trailing on a 3-on-2 rush with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at one end, Henrik sent Daniel in alone at the other, and he lifted a backhand deke past Crawford to make it 3-0.
"Our effort level was great, our execution was great, our defensive play was great," Schneider said. "It was the whole package."
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