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Defense leads Canucks to victory

Wednesday, 05.06.2009 / 1:26 AM / Conference Semifinals: Vancouver vs. Chicago

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- The Vancouver Canucks were finally able to clamp down defensively while keeping their hand on the throttle on the way to gaining a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven series against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday at the United Center.

The Canucks not only finished with a series-high 21 blocked shots in support of All-Star goalie Roberto Luongo (23 saves), but they killed 4 of 5 penalties and kept the Hawks under the 30-shot total for the first time in this Western Conference semifinal. And to think they did it all without injured defenseman Sami Salo, who was sidelined with a lower-body injury.

"We played more of our style of game and kept a pretty good offensive team to 24 shots and most of those shots were from the outside," Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "It was a greasy road win. It's an ugly one in the playoffs and it feels good. Not all of them will be pretty, but we battled.

"With Sami (Salo) going down, we had to step up and that meant more minutes for some players and we were able to deal with it."

Bieksa, in fact, logged just under 28 minutes of ice time for the game alongside partner Shane O'Brien. Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault also paired Mattias Ohlund with Ossi Vaananen, who was inserted into the lineup in the absence of Salo, and Willie Mitchell with Alex Edler. The rotation worked wonderfully as it kept the Blackhawks at bay for the first time in three games.

"It was probably one of our best defensive games of the playoffs as far as not allowing good scoring chances," Luongo said. "We kept them to the outside and away from our net."

Ohlund finished with a team-high five blocked shots while forward Taylor Pyatt, who was making an emotional return to the lineup following the death of his fiancée, Carly Bragnalo, on April 3, blocked three shots.

"You either want to get in front of (shots) or box them out," O'Brien said. "Guys who sacrifice their body like (Alex) Burrows, (Ryan) Kesler, (Mattias Ohlund) Olli, and Ryan Johnson are great, and the other guys are trying to box them out to allow Louie to see the puck. If he does, he'll stop it."

O'Brien is optimistic the Canucks can duplicate Tuesday's effort in Game 4 on Thursday at the United Center.

"We understand that a good defense gives us a good offense and we'll just continue to keep them to the outside," O'Brien said.

Mitchell, who logged 23:37 of ice time on 27 shifts, is happy to see their game plan work to perfection against a highly skilled offensive juggernaut.

"I think we kept their chances down and felt, as a group, that we kept them to the outside," Mitchell said. "Sure, coaches will look at the video and offer corrections, but we took away their speed tonight and didn't turn the puck over. In our first two games, we got away from our style of hockey and turned it over and they have forwards capable of making you pay."

While Mitchell admits he doesn't enjoy hearing that his team needed to block so many shots, he does feel the club really laid it on the line in a game they had to have.

Canucks/Blackhawks Playoff Gear Blackhawks Gear Canucks Gear "We don't like blocking too many shots because that just means you're scrambling into position, but we did take away the lanes," Mitchell said. "This time of year, you have to do that and our forwards were in good position. It's tough for the defenders to shoot it around those forwards when they're down to block shots.

"This was our best effort defensively but that's our game, that's our identity," Mitchell continued. "We like to work from the back end out. We have a great goalie and as long as we play well in front of him, we'll get our chances the other way."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.
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