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Wake up call

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
With eight days off between playoff games for the Vancouver Canucks, the team made a real effort to have a solid opening period in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinal against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Turns out it was the third period they should have been concerned about.

In Vancouver's 5-3 win over Chicago, the Canucks had good jump in the opening 20 minutes which allowed them to open a 1-0 lead thanks to a Pavol Demitra score, his first of the post-season. They then carried that momentum into the second frame.

Goals from Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler had the home side comfortably in front 3-0 heading into the third, but like that blaring alarm clock that jolts you out of bed in the morning, the Canucks got a disturbing wake up call from the Blackhawks in the form of a late-game comeback.

Patrick Kane netted two goals and Dave Bolland collected a single as the Blackhawks rallied to tie the game at 3-3 with less than six minutes to play.

Chicago continued pressing late in the game and when Kris Versteeg, Martin Havlat, Cam Barker and Patrick Kane ripped into the Vancouver zone with only Sami Salo and Willie Mitchell left to fend for Roberto Luongo, fans at GM Place prepared to use their rally towels to soak up tears.

One deflected pass later and the Canucks emerged with a four-on-two of their own with just over a minute left in the game.

It would be smarter to kiss a pig these days than give up a loaded rush like that late in a close playoff game.

Mason Raymond flew down the left wing and rifled a pass over to Steve Bernier who was traveling down main street, his one-timer was stopped by Nikolai Khabibulin but Sami Salo was there to score his first even strength goal of the season.

"I just stepped up to the play and followed the puck and stopped in front of the net and the puck just dropped right in front," explained Salo, who now has two goals and three assists in five playoff games.

"It's huge obviously [to be able to comeback after giving up the lead] but that's probably the only good thing to happen in the third period. They took over in the third period because we sat back a little too much and gave them the charge."

The Canucks didn't just let down their guard in the third period, they lowered the drawbridge and welcomed a Blackhawks comeback.

Against St. Louis the Canucks didn't allow a single third period score. On this night they gave up three on 13 shots.

Every Vancouver player is to blame for not finishing off Chicago in the third, they know that and are taking full responsibility.

How devastating would it have been if the Blackhawks had completed the comeback and stole the first game of this series? The Canucks aren't focused on that right now.

"We're thinking we didn't have our A-game tonight and we still won," said Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa. "So we have a lot to improve. We got this one under our belt and now it's time to focus on Game 2."

Focusing on the second game of the series means adjusting the power play, an aspect of the game that Vancouver wasn't clicking on.

The Canucks went 1-for-7 on the power play with eight shots, but that includes a pair of four-minute double-minors the Blackhawks were assessed for high-sticking.

Another facet that needs immediate attention is Vancouver's effort in the late stages. This outing is proof that even with a 3-0 lead, shifting into cruise control is for fools.

"We've got to be hard on them for sixty minutes," said Luongo, who finished with 28 stops.

"Those guys are skilled and they can score goals. It's important no matter what our lead is, we've got to go after them and play like we did for the first forty minutes."

The bright side of all this chatter is obviously that the Canucks did manage to escape with the win giving them a 1-0 series lead. An added plus is that Alain Vigneault was adamant that his squad learned a lot about the team they're facing.

"They work hard and they're a very strong hockey team. They don't quit and it was a hard fought game," said Vigneault.

"They're a great transition team and we saw that tonight especially in the third period they made it very difficult on us, but at the end of the day we found a way to win the game and that's what it's all about right now."

The offensive spark on this night was provided by Kyle Wellwood. He was a firecracker for the Canucks collecting two assists alongside a plus-2 rating in 18:29 of ice time.

The Sedins combined for a goal, but it was the secondary output from players like Wellwood, Pavol Demitra, Mats Sundin and Mason Raymond that made all the difference.

Offence from the defence is always a bonus and Sami Salo's first even strength goal of the season couldn't have come at a better time.

The Canucks were outshot by the Blackhawks 31-27.

After forty minutes of solid play, both the defence and Roberto Luongo went to sleep for the third period. The blueliners allowed the Blackhawks to get in tight on Luongo and shoot from almost anywhere in close, while Luongo stopped only 10 of 13 shots in the final frame.

It wasn't all bad for the defence, especially with how the unit chipped in with two points, but there's a lot of room for improvement in their own zone.

The Canucks went 1-for-7 on the power play, which includes a pair of four-minute double-minors. One goal on seven attempts just doesn't cut it, another goal or two and there's no Chicago comeback on this night, just a lopsided Vancouver win.

Discipline wasn't on the side of the Blackhawks, but the Canucks exercised it in taking only three penalties. Chicago converted on one attempt.

2 – Points for Kyle Wellwood, who picked up a pair of assists. He now has four points in five games.

5 Straight games the Canucks have opened the scoring

11 – Playoff wins when both Daniel and Henrik record a point in the same game (11-3)

–  Playoff goals for Pavol Demitra, Ryan Johnson and Ryan Kesler

28 Saves for Roberto Luongo.

“It was kind of a 4-on-1, I just stepped up to the play and followed the puck and stopped in front of the net and the puck just dropped right in front."

-Sami Salo

"It’s important no matter what our lead is, we’ve got to go after them and play like we did for the first forty minutes.”

-Roberto Luongo

“I thought we had good jump, we were physical off the bat, we put pucks on net, we were strong with the puck and that’s exactly what we need."

-Kevin Bieksa

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