In Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinal against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Vancouver Canucks more than overcame the absence of a pivotal defenceman and a key forward as every player elevated their game to a higher level.
Aggression, heart and determination carried the shorthanded Canucks to their third road win in as many playoff attempts, 3-1 was the final and Vancouver now holds a 2-1 series lead over Chicago.
After the Canucks had home ice advantage served to them through a straw by the Blackhawks in Game 2, Vancouver returned the favor with easily its most impressive post-season win to date.
Minus a power play specialist and second line playmaker, a solid 60-minute outing was thought to be somewhere between improbable and impossible. The players in the Canucks locker room knew better than that and in the spirit of marching through the playoffs one game at a time, Vancouver approached Game 3 one period at a time.
With the Blackhawks hosting their first home game in May since 1996, the Canucks needed to neutralize the rabid crowd in a hostile environment and they did that by getting to the body and forechecking Chicago with purpose.
Case in point, Ryan Kesler
and Kevin Bieksa
’s joint attack on Cam Barker and Nikolai Khabibulin late in the opening frame.
Off a Vancouver dump in, Barker retreated behind his own goal to play the puck before Khabibulin intercepted and shoveled it down the boards. Kesler skated past and applied just enough pressure that the Blackhawks knew he was there.
Bieksa then jumped up and stole the puck from Ben Eager along the boards, he hit Kesler with a swift pass moments after and from the left of the goal Kesler blindly sent a pass to a streaking Mason Raymond
who was barring down on the net.
Khabibulin didn’t have a chance to recover and Raymond had his first career playoff goal as he converted the pinpoint passing to give the Canucks a 1-0 lead.
“[Bieksa] made a great pinch there and held the puck in and he made a great play over to Kes,” said Raymond of the play. “Kes made a fantastic pass across, I gave him a quick little yelp and I had the empty net goal.”
It sounds simple enough, but a lot of work went into the game’s opening goal, a score that shut the once rambunctious crowd down almost for good.
The Canucks doubled their lead just a minute into the second period off a goal by Steve Bernier, his second of the post-season which stood as his second game-winner, and Henrik Sedin
put Vancouver up 3-0 before the 10 minute mark.
The Blackhawks responded to that by finally beating Roberto Luongo
with a shot that whistled over his left shoulder, but that seemed to almost aggravate the stone cold Canucks.
They’d given up sizeable leads in the first two games of this series and enough was enough. They weren’t about to do it again.
“I think we responded well, maybe a little bit too much time in our zone, but I think we were keeping them to the outside for the most part,” said Bieksa, who was Vancouver’s best skater on the night logging almost 28 minutes in ice time finishing with one assist and a plus-one rating.
“We knew we were going to get push back from them and we did a great job. A couple of shifts we were hemmed in our end but we didn’t give up a whole lot and that’s the good thing. We kept them to the outside, we did a good job of keeping pucks from the middle of the net and we did a good job defensively.”
Vancouver battened down the hatches in the final 20 minutes and although the Canucks were outshot 10-7 by the lifeless Blackhawks, the visitors made life easy on Roberto Luongo
by eliminating traffic in front and dealing with linebacker Dustin Byfuglien.
“Every aspect of our game tonight was really good and the few times that they did have guys in front, I tried to do my job and fight through it,” said Luongo, who made 23 saves and was extremely proud of his team’s overall effort on the night.
“I think it was probably our best game of the playoffs, honestly. We were down a few guys and guys stepped up and played huge and we played a great road game and kept it tight and scored some big goals.”
From unbeaten in the post-season to written off after their first loss and now revamped and in control of the series, the Canucks are looking to steady their play with another solid effort in Game 4 Thursday night.
Salo might return to the lineup and there could be some line juggling considering how well Raymond and Taylor Pyatt played, but the Canucks won’t be mucking with their game plan.
“We don’t really change much,” said Bieksa. “We get a day off tomorrow, have a good practice, then we come right back at them.
“We play the exact same way, we don’t change much and we’d like to get another big road win.”
Three forwards were especially noticable in this game: Mason Raymond
, who scored his first career playoff goal and gave the Blackhawks trouble with this speed; Steve Bernier, who scored his second game-winning goal of the post-season and was a brute in front of the Chicago net; and Taylor Pyatt, who returned to the Canucks line-up after some time off and was close to finishing a number of scoring chances with a team-high four shots on goal.
The Canucks were outshot by the Blackhawks 24-21.
The Canucks needed a killer effort on the backend and without Sami Salo
in the lineup that was thought to be a stretch. Kevin Bieksa
and company ensured it wasn't as they more than picked up the slack.
Chicago was forced to the outside all game long and when the Hawks did get in close, either Shane O'Brien was there to knock them off their game or Roberto Luongo
stood tall making one of his 23 saves.
Vancouver's power play went 1-for-4, while Chicago was 1-for-5. Neither team was overly impressive on the man advantage, but the Canucks netted the game-winner on special teams and finished with six shots.