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Canucks meet Hawks for first time since playoffs

by Pete Jensen
CANUCKS (6-7-1) at BLACKHAWKS (8-2-3)

Last 10
: Vancouver 5-5-0; Chicago 6-1-3.


Season series: Chicago and Vancouver clash Sunday for the first of four regular season head-to-head meetings this season. Last year, these Western Conference foes were well-acquainted with each other, splitting four matchups in the regular season and dueling again in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Canucks jumped out to a 3-0 series lead before dropping three straight games as the Blackhawks forced Game 7. In the decisive game, Alex Burrows notched the overtime winner to help Vancouver avoid a historic playoff collapse and finally advance past the Blackhawks after playoff series defeats in each of the previous two seasons.

Big Story: The Central division-leading Blackhawks welcome the Canucks to United Center on Sunday to kick off a new chapter of the team’s heated rivalry – which has seen them meet in each of the last three postseasons. Vancouver is coming off a 3-2 road loss to the St. Louis Blues on Friday. Chicago, meanwhile, dropped an even more excruciating 5-4 overtime decision on the same night in Tampa Bay.

Team Scope:

Canucks: Vancouver kicked off its stretch of six games away from home with a convincing win Tuesday night in Calgary, but things have not gotten any easier for the Canucks in their ensuing two games.

After scoring 12 goals in a two-game win streak over the Capitals and Flames, Vancouver’s offense has followed with only three goals in consecutive losses. While Vancouver managed to score first in both defeats, courtesy of goals by Dan Hamhuis against the Minnesota Wild and Alexandre Burrows against the Blues, their offense has struggled to find the back of the net in crunch time.

The Canucks surrendered five consecutive goals in Thursday night’s loss, but coach Alain Vigneault saw a much better effort from his team against the Blues, when they were a few bounces away from righting the ship.

"Obviously we played a better game than we did [on Thursday]," Vigneault said. "It was important that our guys responded with a better effort, better execution. I think that was there for the most part."

Blackhawks: Chicago, winners of three-straight games entering Friday’s clash with Tampa Bay, used a three-goal spurt to take a 4-2 advantage midway through the second period.

But Steven Stamkos, who finished with a hat trick in the game, scored twice to erase the Bolts’ deficit before the end of the frame. Then, after a scoreless third period, Vincent Lecavalier’s notched the game-winner in the final minute of overtime to deal the Blackhawks a crushing defeat.
"We had the momentum, we had them on their heels," Jonathan Toews told the Associated Press. "But we got into some bad habits and let them back into it."

Who's Hot: Patrick Kane, who leads the Blackhawks in assists (11) and points (15) on the season, has reeled off two goals and seven points in his last three games. … Burrows has three points in as many games for Vancouver.

Injury Report: Duncan Keith (upper body) is questionable for Sunday’s game against the Canucks, as Blackhawks’ coach Joel Quenneville has only said he hopes his blueliner will be ready. … Alexandre Burrows (back spasms) and Sami Salo (lower body) are questionable for Sunday’s game in Chicago. Mason Raymond (back), Byron Bitz (lower body), Aaron Rome (broken hand) and Steve Pinizzotto (shoulder) are listed on IR for Vancouver.

Stat Pack: While Chicago is third in the League with 3.23 goals per game, their power-play conversion percentage is third-worst in the League (10.4 percent).

Puck Drop: Kane has thrived after his early season transition from right wing to center. But despite his strong start to the season, the 22-year-old continues to embrace every opportunity to develop other phases of his game.

"I knew I wanted to take the step of being one of the best players in the League," Kane told the Chicago Tribune. "My main purpose is to create scoring chances, but you have to be responsible in your own end too. I'm trying. You prove yourself defensively."

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