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Special teams smorgasbord

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks knew special teams would be a major factor in their Western Conference Quarter-Final series versus the St. Louis Blues, but they never expected it to be such an issue so early.

Game 1 at GM Place was a penalty riddled affair that featured fifteen minor penalties and two 10-minute misconducts and while both sides struggled on the power play, the Canucks were suffocating on the penalty kill and it made all the difference in a 2-1 Vancouver win.

The Canucks held the Blues to 1-for-7 with the man advantage allowing only nine shots; two of those came on a lengthy St. Louis 5-on-3 midway through the first period with Vancouver up 1-0.

The Blues had a chance to even things up after Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo took penalties just 19 seconds apart, but the trio of Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and Willie Mitchell were more than up to the test as they blocked two shots, thwarted three passes and allowed only two shots on goal.

Roberto Luongo was stellar all night finishing with 25 saves and on that kill in particular he came up big for the Canucks.

“Obviously on a 5-on-3 you need your goalie to be your best penalty killer,” said Burrows.

“Definitely Lui made some big saves there, especially the last one when he able to keep the rebound too.”

The save in question was a swift pad stop by Luongo on Andy McDonald to the keeper’s left with 7:39 remaining in the first period.

After working the puck around on the two-man advantage, Brad Boyes sent McDonald a one-timer that nine times out of ten he would have converted.

“I didn’t get it up,” said a frustrated McDonald, “he made a good jump being over but certainly I’ve got to get that puck up.”

Failure to take advantage of the other team’s undisciplined play was the story of the night for both teams as the Canucks were only 1-for-6 while up a man, although their lone special teams score was a big one with the Sami Salo point shot counting as the game-winner.

Salo’s goal put the Canucks up 2-0 just over five minutes into the second and St. Louis answered back with Brad Boyes netting a power play goal for the Blues before the period ended, but that was one of the lone bright spots for the Blues offensively.

Vancouver held St. Louis to only six shots in the final frame as the Canucks dominated play down the stretch to earn their 14th home win in their last 16 games stretching back to the regular season.

“Five-on-five I thought we got better as the game went on and we played a really strong third period,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault.

“We’re going to need to get better because that team has got a lot of speed and skill and they play really hard.”

Vigneault said his team needs to play more disciplined and there’s no two ways around that, the Blues were eighth in the league on the power play during the regular season so they can clearly get it done 5-on-4.

“I don’t think we can be in the box six, seven times in a game,” said Luongo.

“We all know that, especially because they’re a good special-teams team, we talked about that so I expect there will be a little bit less penalties [next game].”

The Canucks and Blues will practice Thursday before facing off in the second game of this best-of-seven series Friday night.

If Vancouver can stay out of the box and sneak a goal or two more past St. Louis’ Chris Mason, the Canucks will be on their way to a 2-0 series lead.

Luongo said he expects his team to perform even better in the Game 2 now that the butterflies that come with opening the playoffs are gone, not that he doesn’t enjoy the exhilaration they bring.

“I think everybody is excited to be playing right now, it’s a great time of year. So that’s part of the game and for some, I know like myself, that elevates my game when there’s those nerves.

“It’s just exciting to be part of an atmosphere like that.”

Scoring the game's first goal - check.

Notching a power play marker - check.

Icing the game with a third goal - ummm...

The Canucks did everything right except put this game out of reach with a late goal, but they were able to withstand St. Louis' push in the dying seconds so all is forgiven.

Daniel and Henrik Sedin combined for a goal and two helpers while throwing six pucks on net.

Mason Raymod was a standout as he used his speed to generate four shots.

Offence from the defence does the Canucks a lot of good as Sami Salo's first post-season goal counted as the game-winner.

Although a little too loose early, the blueliners found their comfort zone and improved as the game went on; they were best in the third period in holding the Blues to only six shots.

Although Salo's game-winner was a power play goal, the Canucks can't be happy with their 1-for-6 performance.

Vancouver had a lot of chances to put this game away in the second period and despite a decent set up and good puck movement, the Canucks failed to get enough shots on goal.

The Canucks held the Blues to 1-for-7 on the night, including a monster 5-on-3 kill midway through the first period.

14 – Wins for the Canucks in their last 16 home games

2 Points for Daniel Sedin, he had a goal and an assist

17 – Penalties handed out, 15 minors and 2 10-minute misconducts

– Saves for Roberto Luongo, including a show-stopper on Andy McDonald in the first period

1-for-6 Vancouver's performance on the power play

"That's a dangerous offensive team, and we took too many penalties tonight and it's going to hurt us if we keep doing it that"

-Daniel Sedin

"We ran into some penalty trouble in the first two so that kind of killed our momentum a little bit, but in the third I thought we had a great period."

-Roberto Luongo

"You’re going to see a lot of one goal games in the playoffs and that’s the way we’ve been playing the last couple games of the season, so it’s good to see we carried it over."
-Ryan Kesler

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