Mikael Samuelsson missed Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal with an unidentified illness, but he fought through it and was back with a vengeance scoring the game-winning goal as the Vancouver Canucks beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 at the United Center Sunday to take a commanding 3-0 series lead.
The veteran Canucks forward, much like Pepto Bismol, helped relieve the Canucks of a few upset stomachs when he got the wheels in motion for the seventh playoff game-winning goal of his career by fleecing Fernando Pisani of the puck along the boards in Vancouver’s zone just over six and a half minutes into the third period of a 2-2 game.
After carrying the puck from blueline to blueline, Samuelsson dished it to Christian Ehrhoff, who wired a shot on goal that Corey Crawford couldn’t handle. The rebound bounced to Henrik Sedin, who had his attempt stopped, before Samuelsson played Johnny on the spot to record his team-high 52nd playoff point in his 83rd post-season game.
The goal was Samuelsson’s second point of the series and it, along with scores from Ehrhoff and Daniel Sedin, gives Vancouver only its second 3-0 series advantage in franchise history, the first coming in an opening round sweep of the St. Louis Blues in 2009.
Combine the three Canucks victories with a pair for the Montreal Canadiens, who lead the Boston Bruins 2-0 in their Eastern Conference Quaterfinal, and Canadian teams are 5-0 to open the playoffs for the first time in 43 years.
All that and the Canucks were far from playing their best hockey on this night.
Vancouver began Game 3 with undisciplined play that led to a 1-0 Chicago lead, the Blackhawks first of the series, as the Canucks took four minor penalties – two of which almost ended this game in Chicago’s favour.
With Raffi Torres in the box for roughing, Kevin Bieksa was given two for elbowing leaving the Canucks down 5-on-3 for one minute and 17 seconds.
The Madhouse was ready to erupt with a second Blackhawks goal, but Roberto Luongo, as he’s been all series, was up to the test. Luongo made point blank saves on Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp to wipe out the power play; he finished with 30 saves overall, 15 in the first period alone.
“He’s playing really well for us,” said Ryan Kesler. “He’s our best penalty killer right now and for him, he’s seeing a lot of shots and that’s good. He’s stopping almost everything he’s seeing. For him, he made a couple of good saves on Kane point blank and when you have your goalie as your best penalty killer, you’re going to have a pretty good percentage.”
Still, the Canucks were flirting with disaster being in that position and having taken seven penalties overall, the most since a 7-4 loss to the Blackhawks in Game 4 last year, they know they need to play smarter.
“The game could have been over there,” said Henrik Sedin, who comined with Daniel for four points. “On the first one Keith scores and their top guys started the game really good, if they get another one there on the 5-on-3, they get the momentum and confidence for that group can dangerous. That was a huge kill for us.”
The Canucks did themselves a favour killing 5-of-7 penalties, while scoring on one of two power play occasions of their own; Vancouver is now 2-for-6 on the power play and 10-for-12 when a man down.
With two assists in three games, many are asking what’s wrong with Ryan Kesler.
The answer: nothing. And those asking aren’t watching the tenacious Canucks forwad close enough.
Kesler has been a beast every game of this series and that continued Sunday night with an imposing effort against the big guns of the Blackhawks. In 18:31 of ice time, his lowest total of the series, Kesler played his biggest role, especially on the game-changing 5-on-3 penalty kill in the first period.
Of Kesler’s minutes, a team-high 5:03 was spent killing penalties, aka sacrificing himself to the tune of a team-best three blocked shots and three hits, while winning 13-of-27 faceoffs.
Kesler’s effectiveness becomes even more telling in that Chicago’s top six forwards have combined for one goal and six assists in three games.
Oh, and Kesler didn’t find the back of the net, but he certainly tried. He led the Canucks with six shots and has a series-high 16 so far.
“I’ve got to do a job,” explained Kesler of his unique two-time Selke-nominated role. “Those are three really good players that I’ve got to shutdown over there and it takes a little bit away from my offensive game, but we’re still generating chances and that’s the important thing.
While happy with the win and despite Kane only picking up one assist, just his second point of the series, Kesler knows the Canucks need to be better locking down the pesky forward.
“We’ve got to keep doing a good job, we didn’t do a great job on Kane tonight, he had a few grade-A opportunities. We need to take away his time and space for sure.”
With Raffi Torres and Mikael Samuelsson returning to the line-up, Cody Hodgson and Aaron Rome were healthy scratches for the Canucks; Vancouver has won three of its last four playoff games in Chicago; Vancouver has 130 hits through three games versus 95 against Chicago in four regular season games; Daniel and Henrik Sedin are tied for the team-high in penalty minutes with four each.