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Blackhawks vs. Canucks blog @NHL

Salo back in Canucks' lineup
05.11.2010 / 3:58 PM ET

Defenseman Sami Salo is back in the Vancouver Canucks lineup for Game 6 -- roughly 48 hours after leaving United Center via ambulance for a Chicago-area hospital with an injury to his groin region.

Salo was struck in the midsection by Duncan Keith's point shot in the waning moments of Game 5 Sunday night. He left the ice hunched over and had to be taken on a stretcher to the ambulance. At first it was reported that he suffered a ruptured testicle, but that was not the case and clearly the injury is not all that serious.

But Salo surprised everyone, including his teammates, by taking the pre-game skate this morning at GM Place. Coach Alain Vigneault, who does not disclose injuries, called him a game-time decision, but he took warmups before the game, and the Canucks announced Salo would be in the lineup.

A roar carried through the stands at GM Place when the announcement was made.

Salo will be paired with his usual defense partner, Alexander Edler. The Canucks are not even dressing seven defensemen as precaution, which some teams sometimes do when a blueliner is banged up.

Lawrence Nycholat would have been Salo's replacement. He hasn't played an NHL game since March 22, 2009, with Colorado. Salo has a goal and five assists in the playoffs. He's averaging about 22 minutes of ice time per night and plays in all situations.

--Dan Rosen

Toews expects a much tighter game
05.11.2010 / 3:58 PM ET

Only one of Chicago's 11 playoff games so far this spring has been decided by one goal while seven have seen a three-goal gap between the teams, including one four-goal differential. Similarly, the Canucks have played in only two one-goal games, meaning nine have been decided by at least two or more.
This doesn't seem like playoff hockey, does it? Usually you would expect tight-checking, low scoring, even games that get decided in the third period or sometime in overtime. Heck, look at Montreal, it has played in two OT games and seven one-goal games.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews something like that could happen tonight in Game 6.
"We're definitely going to tighten up the way we play," he said. "We gave up too many chances last game, some easy offensive chances. They were doing that very well last game, holding us to one goal. I think you can expect that type of game from both teams."
Toews thinks the Hawks play a smarter and tougher game on the road because they don't worry about scoring and entertaining the crowd. They are 4-1 on the road in the playoffs but only 3-3 at United Center.
If they win tonight, they'll open the Western Conference Final on the road in San Jose, where the Sharks are 5-1, the best home record of any team still left in the playoffs.
"We have definitely played smarter and not given up as much scoring chances on the road," Toews said. "We definitely want to keep that up tonight."

-- Dan Rosen

Salo skates with Canucks
05.11.2010 / 1:56 PM ET

Sami Salo is skating with the Vancouver Canucks this morning at GM Place less than 48 hours after he took a shot to the midsection and had to be taken to a Chicago area hospital. Game 6 against Chicago is tonight at 9:30 ET.

It's never good when the word testicle is used in hockey, but Salo was originally believed to have a ruptured testicle. That is not the case, but he still got hit in that area and it was serious enough to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance.

Salo flew home with the Canucks on Tuesday.

We will know more about his status shortly.

-- Dan Rosen

O'Brien responds with a strong effort
05.09.2010 /11:45 PM ET

Shane O'Brien had a forgetful night Friday in Vancouver. He committed two horrific cross checking penalties within the first 10 minutes of Game 4 and was essentially stapled to the bench at points. He wound up playing only 15 shifts totaling 9:38.

He just about doubled that Sunday in Chicago because he played a strong, effective and gutsy game. O'Brien wound up skating in 28 shifts for 19:29 of ice time. He got more time largely because Sami Salo was lost after the first period with an injury to his midsection, but O'Brien ate up the time wisely and wound up a plus-2 for the night.

"Yeah, it was great," he said after the Canucks' 4-1 win. "The boys stepped up huge. Losing a guy like Same Salo, you never want that to happen, but it gives you an opportunity to play a little bit more hockey and if you ask any player the more you play the better you feel. It was good."

O'Brien, who was on the ice for the Canucks' first two goals, was whistled for one penalty, but it was a matching roughing minor with Ben Eager 8:43 into the third period.

Eager, in fact, was doing all he could to get a lot of the Canucks to commit penalties, but for the most part they stayed away from the retaliatory stuff, something they could not do in Games 3 and 4.

"He was trying hard," O'Brien said. "I still got a coincidental with him but he elbowed me pretty good in the jaw. That's the stuff we're talking about, you have to take a deep breath and turn your cheek. He was a non-factor in the game tonight. You can't really worry about him. He's going to run around and do his thing, and really it has nothing to do with the hockey game."

"Shane is a bright, emotional young man that has got to make sure he stays in control and he did tonight," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault added. "He had to do it and we're going to need him to do it next game."

-- Dan Rosen

Kane lauds Big Buff, again
05.09.2010 /5:33 PM ET

It seems like Patrick Kane can't get enough of the Dustin Byfuglien questions. That's a good thing, too, because as long as the Hawks are in these playoffs it's a good bet that Big Buff is going to be a topic of conversation.

Byfuglien should again be the big body stationed right in front of Robert Luongo tonight when Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are also on the ice. The Hawks' top line has become one of the best in the League because of the skill of Kane, two-way talent of Toews and imposing size and ability of Byfuglien.

They have combined for 8 goals and 12 assists in this series. And, tonight may just be Kane's night to get a hat trick since Byfuglien did it in Game 3 and Toews did it in Game 4.

"With Buff, he's been playing really well lately and he's been drawing a lot of attention whether it's media-wise or from their team," Kane said this morning. "He's doing a lot of good things. He's in front of the net, but he's not pushing the envelope where he's taking a lot of penalties. I don't think he's taken a penalty for interfering with a goalie. Knock on wood he doesn't tonight. It just seems like he's doing everything right that way. If he can keep it that way and we can get some more chemistry with him, we'll be even better."

Kane said the best thing about Byfuglien is he listens to what he and Toews want.

"There are plays that developed over the last few games where I tell him to do something and it's automatic, he does it right away," Kane said. "He listens really well.

"He's holding onto the puck, making good plays and it seems like he's doing what we want to do out there," added No. 88. "If he wants to stay (in front of the net), that's fine with us. He'll stay there and we'll do the work from the outside."

-- Dan Rosen

Brouwer's father doing better

05.09.2010 /3:24 PM ET
It was a bittersweet visit home to Vancouver for Hawks forward Troy Brouwer this past week for Games 3 and 4 in the series.

His struggles on the ice led to him being scratched from the active lineup for both games, meaning the crew of family and friends who attended didn't get to see him play. He did, however, get to visit with his father, Don, who's been hospitalized for what's been reported as a blood clot in his brain.

"I went and saw him, and that helped out a lot," said Brouwer, who will likely still be a scratch for Game 5 Sunday night. "He looked great. I hear he's doing well now and he's on the right path."

Did he get any advice from his dad?

"Surprisingly, no, not really," Brouwer said. "He wanted to know right away why I wasn't playing, but he just said, ‘That's OK. That's OK. Just keep working hard and you'll get back in there.'"

Brouwer missed the last four games of the regular season back in Vancouver to be with his dad, whom he said could be back home in about a month or slightly less. Brouwer didn't blame his concerns on his play in the playoffs, but did say it's been on his mind quite a bit.

He is also champing at the bit to get back into a game, but understands why Hawks coach Joel Quenneville doesn't want to change up the lines that have worked so well the past two games.

"I can't argue with it right now," he said. "The guys who are in there are playing great. I'm just going to keep working hard, and when I get in I get in."

-- Brian Hedger

Road warriors return home
05.09.2010 /3:22 PM ET
The Hawks are now 4-1 on the road in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs after taking two out of three games in Nashville against the Predators in the quarterfinal round and then winning both games at Vancouver this past week.

What's the secret?
05.09.2010 /1:15 PM ET
"I really can't (explain it)," forward Dustin Byfuglien said. "I guess the team just comes together better on the road."

-- Brian Hedger

Hawks at their peak?
05.09.2010 /3:20 PM ET

Even though they dispatched of Nashville in six games in the quarterfinal round and have Vancouver on the ropes 3-1 in this Western Conference Semifinals series, the Hawks say they still have plenty of room to improve.

"I'm not sure you can say we're playing our best right now," forward Patrick Sharp said. "I know that we're getting better and better every game, and our overall team game is pretty strong – but we've got a long way to go."

-- Brian Hedger

Canucks insist trust is not an issue

05.09.2010 /1:15 PM ET

When asked if the foundation of trust is still strong inside the Canucks dressing room and on the bench, Ryan Kesler gave a blank stare and a quick answer.

"It's still there, bud," he said. "It's still there."

If that is indeed true, than it's a good start because the Canucks are definitely going to need to trust each other tonight. If they are at all wavering in their faith in one another, they're a dead team skating.

"The trust is there," Henrik Sedin confirmed. "Ninety percent of our game is good, it's just that when they score on pretty much all of their power plays you take all of the momentum away from your team and it puts you in tough spots. We have to take fewer penalties for sure and we have to kill them off."

Sedin did admit there were tiems over the last two games, especially in Game 4, when guys on the bench would mutter to under their breath or to their neighbor words like, 'What the heck was he thinking?'

That's frustration setting in.

"Yeah, but you gotta believe that the guy that does it feels bad and he's not going to come back and do the same thing," Sedin said.

-- Dan Rosen

Better to be lucky and good

05.08.2010 /8:35 PM ET

Jonathan Toews' hat trick and five-point night in Game 4 against Vancouver brought a lot of attention to the 22-year old star center and Blackhawks captain.
He now leads the League in playoff points (18) and continues a trend dating back to the postseason a year ago, when he and fellow young star Patrick Kane led the Hawks to the Western Conference Finals.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said there's a good reason that Toews -- who also won a gold medal in the Vancouver Olympics -- wears the 'C' for his team.
"Jon is a special player," he said. "He kind of epitomizes what leadership is all about. When the stakes get higher he seems to rise to the occasion and answer all questions as to what he’s capable of doing. He likes the stakes (when there's) a little bit more at stake. He seems to relish it.”
Especially when all the bounces seem to go his way, like they did on Friday night -- he scored his second goal after the puck deflected off the skate of Canucks forward Ryan Kesler and went right to him in front of the Vancouver net.
"(Friday) night was one of those nights where you’re around the net and everything seems to find you," Toews said. "You work hard over an extended amount of games and there are times when you don't get those breaks and it gets frustrating. But it's playoff hockey and you've got to find a way to stick with it. Eventually you're going to cash in and help your team in a big way like that."
He and Kane both seem to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
"Top guys, top scorers and top producers … pucks sometimes seem to follow them around," Quenneville said. "They have that ability to know where the puck's going to end up. It's anticipation and a lot of players in our League don't have that ability to forecast where it's going to end up. Sometimes it's lucky, but the guys who are lucky … there's usually a reason why."

-- Brian Hedger
Hawks feeling confident, not cocky
05.08.2010 /8:35 PM ET
Chicago forward Patrick Sharp, who had a goal and three assists in Game 4 against Vancouver, said the Hawks are doing their best to prevent overconfidence from seeping into their thoughts.
"We're a confident team, but we have that balance," he said. "I don't think we're cocky by any means. I don't think we're planning too far ahead. We know what kind of opponent we have and how big the challenge is going to be (Sunday night)."
Jonathan Toews concurred, and said the Hawks must meet Vancouver's level of desperation in order to end the series.
"Overconfidence is something that can definitely creep in when you win three games in a row," he said. "We've got to realize that things can turn around pretty quick and we don't want to give them confidence or hope they can come back in the series. It's all about our work ethic and how we prepare."

-- Brian Hedger

Canucks adjusting PP?

05.07.2010 /2:45 PM ET

The Canucks' power play has fizzled in this series with the Blackhawks. It's 1-for-13 at 5-on-4 with one 5-on-3 goal in Game 2. At Friday's morning skate, coach Alain Vigneault showed two new units that could be used in tonight's Game 4.

At one end of the ice, the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows -- a 35-goal scorer who rarely sees power-play time time -- were playing with Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo at the points. At the other end were forwards Mikael Samuelsson, Ryan Kesler and Steve Bernier/Kyle Wellwood with Christian Ehrhoff and Alexander Edler on the blue line.

The biggest change in all of that is the lack of Pavol Demitra, who will likely be sitting in the press box with Rick Rypien. Coach Alain Vigneault will never confirm his lineup, but it looks like Tanner Glass and Michael Grabner will play.

But Burrows on the top power-play unit looks to be Vigneault's answer to getting some toughness in front of Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi.

"For sure I'll try to visualize it, but at the same time I might not be out there," said Burrows, who scored just four power-play goals this season. "Whatever happens, happens. If I get the call you know where I'll be."


Daniel Sedin is getting sick of talking about his outburst in Game 3, and rightfully so. Friday marked the third day in a row he was asked by reporters about Dave Bolland getting under his skin.

It's one thing to get that at work. But when you have to hear about it at home, you're going to get a little cranky too.

Apparently Sedin's 4-year-old daughter wasn't pleased with dad sitting in the penalty box and let him hear about when he got home.

"I can't tell my daughter what he said," Sedin said of his exchange with Bolland during the scrum. "I explained to her that it's not a good thing to go to the box. She saw me sitting there so she wasn't too happy."

Sedin spent just 28 minutes in the penalty box during the regular season, so it was definitely an unfamiliar sight for everyone. But his daughter has to be a little more used to Uncle Henrik in the box, what with his 48 minutes there this season.

"That's for hooking," Daniel quipped.

-- Dave Lozo

Burish wants Canucks to stop complaining

05.07.2010 /2:00 PM ET

Blackhawks forward Adam Burish will never find himself in a Gatorade commercial, unless the company signs Sidney Crosby as an endorser and uses footage of Crosby blowing past Burish and scoring a goal.

But Burish is a reporter's dream. He's a well-spoken guy who doesn't mind telling you what's on his mind. And most times, he has a point.

Between Game 3 and tonight's Game 4, the Canucks have talked about turning the tables on the Blackhawks and crashing Antti Niemi's net. The Canucks have also sworn that the Blackhawks didn't get under their skin in Game 3 until the game was out of hand. It was a complete flip-flop from the turn the other cheek style that nearly netted the Canucks a 2-0 series lead.

Burish, part of the "meat" that has grinded down the Canucks over the last two games, gave his take on getting reactions and all the talk about driving the net.

"You could tell in Game 2. You'd go after some guys and target a few guys and get in a few guys' faces and they just kind of had this stone face to them," Burish said of the Canucks' resisting the Blackhawks' attempts to agitate. "They didn't want to say anything, they didn't want to have any confrontation, they don't want to interact with anyone.

"You realize that this is their MO, this is their idea of what they want to do. Then all of a sudden, it just unraveled for them (in Game 3). Maybe they want to take a different approach, maybe that's their approach now. Maybe they're going to say, "F you" we're coming after you, we don't care what you're going to do. If that's their approach now, that's fine with me."

Burish was even more forthcoming about driving the net of Roberto Luongo and the Canucks asking for calls from the referees.

"I know they get upset about this whole going to the net thing. It's silly to me," Burish said. "If you're going to continue to tell yourself so many times, 'OK they're going to the net, they're going to the net,' and we keep doing it, we keep scoring, I'd snap too I guess.

"You know what? Don't let us get to the net. Maybe try that instead of just complaining about it."


Joel Quenneville's lines in Friday's morning skate looked the same from what he employed in Game 3. When asked if he had plans to change anything for Game 4, Quenneville responded, "We'll see. Likely not."

-- Dave Lozo

Blackhawks shutting down Sedins

05.06.2010 /5:00 PM ET

VANCOUVER -- The Blackhawks decided not to skate at GM Place on Thursday morning, but a few players were available to discuss how they have kept the Sedin twins in check over the last two games.

Daniel and Henrik were held without a point in Game 3 and have just one point (an assist by Henrik) in the last two games. It's no coincidence that both of those games resulted in Blackhawks' victories.

"It's huge," Seabrook said. "They can explode at any time. They can score big goals at timely moments. I thought during the regular seaon they were unbelievable and I think that was one of the things we wanted to key on in this series was limiting on those guys, taking those guys away. If they're not scoring goals, they're usually finding someone else that's going to find the back of the net."

On top of the lack of scoring, the Blackhawks seem to have gotten under the skin of the normally docile Daniel Sedin, who took an uncharacteristic roughing penalty after mixing it up with Dave Bolland in Game 3.

"I think those guys, the two Sedins, they came out real hard last night," Seabrook said. "One of them hit me pretty hard. They were punching back, hitting back. When I saw (Daniel) I didn't know what was going on. I'm sure it's going to be a different story next game."

Much of the responsibility for checking the Sedins has fallen on the line of Bolland-Andrew Ladd-Kris Versteeg, who have not only done the job defensively, but Versteeg scored the game-winner with 90 seconds remaining in Game 2.

It's one thing to silence the Sedins, but to get the better of them on the offensive end is a bonus.

"It's a big assignment out there against the Sedins," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. "That line, you're comfortable out there against anybody but I think there's some offense there as well.

"It's going to be an ongoing challenge. Bolland's had a lot of shifts and that line's been effective, but I don't think we should be satisfied."

-- Dave Lozo

Where did the discipline go?

05.06.2010 /3:45 PM ET

VANCOUVER -- The Canucks came out of Games 1 and 2 at the United Center with two things -- a split and an obvious mentality that they weren't going to engage the Blackhawks after whistles and take boneheaded penalties that hurt the team.

For some reason, that all went out the window in Game 3 on Wednesday.

With the Canucks starting a power play in the first period, Canucks star Daniel Sedin lost his mind when Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland gave him a shot with his stick before a faceoff. It resulted in Sedin and Bolland each getting two minutes for roughing, a tradeoff the Blackhawks will take every time.

"It was one incident and other than that he seems like a nice guy," Sedin said of Bolland. "It's one of those things. He's got a job to do and he did it great last night. Of course it's not a good trade-off. It happened, it's not a good thing by me."

For the most part, Canucks players said the Blackhawks didn't get under their skin, that the frustration didn't boil over until the game was out of hand.

"It's one of those things you're a little bit frustrated about losing the game," Sedin said. "Other than that I think we've done a pretty decent job. We can probably be a little bit better, but I think most of what is at the end of the game when the game was out of hand, so I don't think we're too worried about that."

The evidence contradicts Sedin, who was among those who cost his team with a bad penalty early in the game. But perhaps no penalty was more costly than the one Alex Burrows took against Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell in the second period.

About 30 seconds after an icing call, Burrows and Campbell got into in front of the penalty boxes. Referees decided that just Burrows would sit for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving the Blackhawks a power play.

Less than a minute later, Dustin Byfuglien made it a 3-1 game.

Vigneault confessed Thursday that the penalty was not a good one, but he expects Burrows to learn fom that mistake and not repeat his actions in Friday's Game 4.

-- Dave Lozo

Canucks getting tough for Game 3

05.05.2010 /2:45 PM ET

VANCOUVER -- For Game 2, the Chicago Blackhawks changed their fourth line, inserting Adam Burish and Ben Eager onto a line with John Madden. They didn't add offense, but they added toughness that was lacking in Game 1 and it resulted in a victory.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault appears to be countering that move for Game 3.

It's the playoffs, and no one gives out any information about lineup changes and injuries, but it looks like Ryan Johnson and Darcy Hordichuk are going to get a crack at fourth-line minutes for the Canucks, replacing Michael Grabner and Jannik Hansen.

Johnson, a shot-blocking machine who has been out since early April after taking a blast off his foot, is excited about getting a chance to get into his first postseason game of 2010 and doesn't plan to change anything about his game.

"I'll be doing what I'm doing. I wouldn't come into this lineup with hesitation in my game," said Johnson, who said he will wear special protectors on his skates for the rest of his career. "I'm in great shape. I always take a lot pride in that. My wind is not going to be an issue. The tempo is going to be fast, but I play a fast game."

Hordichuk, who accumulated 142 penalty minutes in 56 games this season, doesn't think it'll be hard to straddle line between playing physical and taking penalties.

"It's about knowing your role and going out there and doing it," said Hordichuk, who hasn't played since April 4. "I'm going to be going in there and trying to time (my hits) and see if we can make some things happen out there."


The Blackhawks are being even less forthcoming about their lineup changes, but Dustin Byfuglien skated on a line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on Wednesday morning at GM Place. That likely means Troy Brouwer to the bench and the return of defenseman Jordan Hendry.

-- Dave Lozo

Burish has respect for Ryan Johnson's abilities

05.02.2010 /5:55 PM ET

If the Stars War trilogy (Episodes IV-VI, not the other three we'll pretend never happened) taught us anything, it's that hate can destroy you. There's plenty of it floating around the locker rooms of the Blackhawks and Canucks, who have no trouble telling you how much they dislike each other.

But it can't be everybody, right? Someone has to like someone, don't they?

Blakhawks forward Adam Burish admitted a fondness for one Canuck player, partly for his style of play and partly for, well, other reasons.

"If I had to pick one guy, it'd probably be Ryan Johnson," Burish said. "Two reasons -- I like the way he plays. He plays hard and he's fearless. He's just an unbelievable character guy to be doing stuff like that, I've got a lot of respect for that guy.

"Plus he was dating Erin Andrews, so that's pretty sweet too. He's probably the one guy I'd hang out with and have a couple beers with."

Sounds like he'd rather hang out with the ESPN reporter more than the Canuck shot-blocker.

"Maybe I'll have the beer with him and Erin Andrews and I will hang out after," he said.

Kris Versteeg also let his guard down.

"I've hung out with Kyle Wellwood," Versteeg said. "He's a pretty cool guy to talk to, a nice guy."

Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa took his time thinking about who he likes on the Blackhawks before finally giving his answer.

"One guy on their team? I'm sure one of their medical assistants are good guys," Bieksa said.

-- Dave Lozo

It's Antti again for Game 2

05.02.2010 /5:55 PM ET

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was asked for the first time in a long time about which goalie would start Chicago’s next game.
His answer was short and to the point.
"Antti's playing, no doubt," Quenneville said of Antti Niemi, who was pulled after giving up five goals in two periods of Friday's 5-1 Game 1 shellacking. "He's played very well for us down the stretch. He played a very good series against Nashville and he was fine last night. It was easy to make a change going into the third period to get him rested and get him excited."
The Hawks didn't practice on Saturday, but Quenneville said that Niemi went over a few things with Chicago goaltending coach Stephane Waite.
Hawks defenseman Brent Sopel also said that he planned to have a talk with Niemi before Game 2.
"I'll just talk to him," Sopel said. "We'll have a conversation real quickly. He played really well. Couple of rebounds. Couple of mistakes … but you can't blame that on him. He'll go back and regroup. He's pretty calm. He doesn't wrap himself up too tight."

-- Brian Hedger
Canucks weren't overlooked -- or were they?
05.02.2010 /5:55 PM ET

There was some talk during the Hawks' press conference Saturday about them possibly overlooking the Canucks coming into the series after downing Vancouver in six games a year ago.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville gave that thought life when he said, "I guess we can look back at the score and the way it was played out -- maybe there was a bit of disrespect going into the series."
Defenseman Brent Sopel didn't think so.
"We know they're a great team and obviously what happened last year, beating them in the playoffs … that adds a little diesel to the fire," he said. "So, we knew it definitely wasn't going to be easy."

-- Brian Hedger

Keith has plenty left

05.02.2010 /5:55 PM ET

Chicago's top defensive pair of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook is logging lots of ice time, and some wonder if Keith might be getting worn out after having no answer why the Hawks were so slow in Game 1.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville isn't worried.
"They do log a lot of minutes," he said of Seabrook and Keith. "They're going to be challenged in this series against the Sedins. Awareness as to how they're feeling is part of it, but I think (Keith) is accustomed to playing up to 30 minutes (a game). He can absorb a lot of ice time and he's got a lot of energy in his body and he takes care of himself real well. We'll keep an eye on him, but he's certainly not a guy you have to worry about too much."
Keith had two giveaways and was minus-1 in 22:58 in Game 1.

-- Brian Hedger

Home crowd pressure not an issue
05.02.2010 /5:55 PM ET

Chicago has one of the best, if not the best, pre-game traditions in the League with its rendition of the national anthem.
As the anthem is sung, Hawks fans cheer as loud or louder than they do when the Hawks score a goal -- bringing a fevered pitch to the United Center just before the puck is dropped. If the Hawks don’t score within the first half of the period, the crowd then becomes much more silent.
That sometimes seems to negate the home-ice advantage, but Patrick Sharp disagreed.
"I don't think we feel that pressure (to score early) at all," he said. "Our home record's been great the past couple years and the atmosphere and our fans has a lot of do with that. There's a lot of questions whether home teams feel the pressure in every game, but I think we use it to our advantage. We came out strong (in Game 1). (Roberto) Luongo made some big saves to keep them in it."

-- Brian Hedger
No big deal

05.02.2010 /5:55 PM ET

Some might think that getting blown away by four goals in front of your own fans on national television in the series opener of the conference semifinals might sting more than merely losing a close game.
Not so, according to Patrick Sharp.
"It's kind of tough to look at the final score at the end of the day, but a 5-1 loss in the playoffs is still a loss," he said. "It doesn't matter what the score is."

-- Brian Hedger

Balance and Luongo key for Canucks
05.02.2010 /3:45 PM ET

The Vancouver Canucks held a "very" optional skate on Sunday afternoon at United Center. And as you can imagine for yourself if your boss told you coming into work on Monday was "very" optional, some players decided to take the day off.

But coming off a 5-1 dismantling of the Chicago Blackhawks in Saturday's Game 1, the very optional practice was very well-deserved.

The win was the Canucks' fourth straight, and it's no coincidence that it marked the fourth straight game in which the once-beleaguered penalty killing unit put forth a fine performance. The Blackhawks' only goal in Game 1 came on a 5-on-3 power play early in the third period when the game was already over, but the Canucks' penalty-killing unit is now 18 for its last 20 in man-down situations.

"Our penalty killing has been fine," said coach Alain Vigneault. "We went through a stretch there when the bounces weren't going our way."


There were two big reasons for the Canucks' dominance in Game 1 -- Roberto Luongo and goals from all four lines.

The game-changing save on Patrick Kane was undoubtedly the moment that changed everything. Sure, the Canucks had to kill a penalty right after that, but everyone said that save with just under seven minutes left in the first period really gave the team a lift.

"It's huge for a team's psyche when you make a mistake -- and there are mistakes made out there -- and your goalie bails you out," said Vigneault. "It's huge for the confidence and the momentum. And thinking of last night when we made it 1-0 and the puck bounces over (Alexander Edler's) stick at the blue line and there top offensive player goes on a breakaway and Lui stops him.

"Without a doubt that has a huge effect throughout the group when the players know if they make a mistake, the guy in goal has a good chance of bailing them out, that's huge."

That save was just one of many Luongo made. He was in a zone from the start, and when he's playing like that, just knowing he's back there can change the feeling on the bench.

"Whenever we don't feel comfortable on the ice or they got some momentum, being able to rely on him when he's playing well is a big advantage," said forward Kyle Wellwood.

"He's one of the best in the world," said Henrik Sedin. "If he's on top of his game, we can bring our offense like we did yesterday. I think we showed what kind of game we can play. He saved us in the first, we scored five goals, that was the bottom line. It would've been a totally different game if they scored the first goal."


That brings us to the other facet of the Canucks' win -- offense from everyone.

All four lines chipped in with a goal, and a fifth one came from defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. Henrik Sedin, Mason Raymond, Kyle Wellwood and Michael Grabner all scored to chase Blackhawks goaltender Anti Niemmi.

"Against such a strong opponent that has so much firepower, you need contributions from everyone," said Vigneault. "There's no doubt about that."

"You have to make sure support guys are support guys are putting the game away so that (the top-line guys) don't have to waste that much energy," said Wellwood, whose power-play goal midway through the second period made it 4-0.


Winning Game 1 is all well and good, but the Canucks took Game 1 of this series last year before falling in six games. Reminders certainly aren't needed that winning one games is about as meaningless as it gets.

"Even against L.A. in the first series, we won the first game and lost the second one," said Henrik Sedin. "That should be enough for us to know that we have to be ready to win the next game."

And you can expect the Blackhawks to bring a far better game to the United Center for Monday night's Game 2.

"They're going to be hungry tomorrow night for sure," Raymond said. "They're going to be more physical. It's definitely going to a highly intense game."

-- Dave Lozo

What a stunner
05.01.2010 /11:40 PM ET

Roberto Luongo's last two playoff visits to the United Center couldn't have been more dissimilar.

Slightly less than a year after the Blackhawks got to him for seven goals in a second-round series-clinching win over Vancouver, the gold medal-winning goaltender kept his team in the game early before the Canucks' offense kicked in. The result: A shocking 5-1 win over Chicago in the opener of their Western Conference Semifinal series.

To Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, there was no question who made the difference.

"The difference tonight was that we were able to finish and they couldn't finish," Vigneault said. "Our goaltender shut them down, and we were able to get to theirs."

Just don't expect Luongo to admit that his performance meant anything to him personally.

"It meant nothing to me," he told the assembled media after his brilliant showing -- which included stopping all 17 Chicago shots in the opening period. "It's only one game, and we're here to win four games."

Three more performances like that one and he'll have accompished his goal.

--John Kreiser

Campbell recalls a nervous Niemi
04.30.2010 / 4:30 PM ET

Brian Campbell never will forget the first time he saw Antti Niemi pull on a Blackhawks jersey.
It happened last season. The young Finnish goalie was a nervous wreck after being called up from AHL Rockford. As Campbell recalls, Niemi half-ran, half-walked to the ice and pretty much looked like a train wreck on skates.
"He's walking out for his first game and his pads are flapping everywhere and his chest protector was outside of his jersey," Campbell said Friday, following a practice at the United Center. "I couldn't believe this guy was going to play net for us. Usually goalies love their gear to look (a certain) way and be perfect. I was like, 'Whoa … OK, here we go. Whatever you say.'"
Just a little more than a year later, Campbell and the Hawks feel confident with Niemi in the net as they prepare to face high-powered nemesis Vancouver in a Western Conference Semifinal series that starts Saturday (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC).

-- Brian Hedger

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