CHICAGO -- It was far too early in the game for the Chicago Blackhawks to start panicking, but you couldn't fault anyone for thinking "here we go again" when they fell behind 2-0 to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 2 of their Western Conference Semifinal series.
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Mason Raymond put the Canucks ahead 1-0 just 1:22 into the game, barely enough time for the United Center crowd to get settled after the national anthems. Mikael Samuelsson's 5-on-3 power-play goal less than four minutes later gave the Canucks a two-goal lead, the same 2-0 lead they held in the first period of Game 1, a game that turned into a 5-1 laugher where the Blackhawks were the butt of the joke.
But this time, the Blackhawks wouldn't go away quietly.
Brent Seabrook made it 2-1 just 2:38 after Samuelsson's goal, and the Blackhawks controlled the game from there. Patrick Sharp tied it at 2-2 with a shorthanded goal early in the third period, and Kris Versteeg scored the winner with 90 seconds left as the Blackhawks went on to a come-from-behind 4-2 win Monday night and a much-needed split of the first two games of this best-of-seven series.
Game 3 is set for Wednesday in Vancouver.
"It's a big win," Sharp said. "We've got a big one coming up in Game 3. It's going to be a good series, it's going to be a long one. We'll enjoy this one tonight."
Five minutes into the game, it looked like the only thing the Blackhawks would be enjoying was a second straight throttling at the hands of the Canucks. Seabrook and Versteeg were pretty honest afterward about what was running through their heads when they were down 2-0 right away.
"It was unbelievable," Seabrook said. "I was like, 'Oh my God.' This is not happening again."
"We weren’t very happy with ourselves. It kind of sucked," Versteeg said.
But from that point on, the Blackhawks set up shop in the Canucks' end. Versteeg's winner, while it nearly blew the roof off the United Center, was almost fumbled away.
Versteeg had the puck on the left wing and faked a shot to get Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa down on the ice to go around him. But instead of shooting, he tried one more fake before losing the puck.
Luckily for him, the puck found its way back to defenseman Duncan Keith at the blue line. He fed Versteeg just below the left faceoff circle, where he wristed a shot over Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, who couldn't slide across in time with a ton of traffic in front of his net.
Versteeg could only laugh about how fortunate he was to get a second opportunity to win the game.
"I was going to shoot it and there was like four bodies there," he said. "I double-faked myself and faked myself out. I wasn't too happy with myself because I thought I kind of threw it away. The puck came back and I just tried to shoot it and it went in."
Slipping under the radar in Game 2 was Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi, who was sharp after allowing the two early goals he had very little chance of stopping. He made 24 saves, many of them while the Canucks held a 2-1 lead for most of the game.
It was a great bounce-back effort for the 26-year-old Finn after he allowed five goals in two periods in Game 1 and spent the third period on the bench in favor of Cristobal Huet.
"He was great. He kept us in it," Sharp said of Niemi. "We were chopping the puck up into pieces the first couple minutes of the game. He woke us up and got us going. We have no problems with Antti."
"I thought he was great," Seabrook said. "The 5-on-3 goal, there's not much of a chance on that. The other one was right to the top corner. I thought he made some stops and he really made some big plays and gave us an opportunity to get back into it."
The Canucks were left to contemplate the what-ifs after letting an early 2-0 lead and a 2-1 lead in the third period slip away.
"It's disappointing to lose this game when we had a 2-0 lead," said Samuelsson, whose eight goals are tied with Montreal's Michael Cammalleri for second in the playoffs. "It's still 1-1 and we're looking forward to the next game. Nobody expected us to win in four straight games. It's going to be a battle and it should be a battle. I think the game was wide-open and both teams could've come out with a victory here tonight."
Game 2: Canucks vs. Blackhawks (Getty Images)
The chippiness intensified Monday after a Game 1 that was downright cordial in comparison to last year's playoff series.
After a whistle, the Canucks' Rick Rypien took offense to a hit from Blackhawks defenseman/forward Dustin Byfuglien. Rypien circled behind Niemi's net and wound up on his backside after taking a run at the bigger Byfuglien.
With less than two minutes to go in the second period, cameras caught Ben Eager on the bench having a few words for Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows while he awaited a faceoff. Burrows had his back to Eager, who was making his first appearance of the series, and never responded.
Both Eager and Adam Burish were inserted into the lineup after being healthy scratches in Game 1. They provided the grit and net presence in front of Luongo in Game 2 that was severely missing in the series opener.
"We definitely weren't happy with the first game," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we got some good energy out of (Eager and Burish). And that line was effective in a lot of ways."
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Shift of the Night:Patrick Sharp's shorthanded effort with the Blackhawks trailing 2-1 early in the third period was a game-changer. He hustled to the top of the zone, chipped the puck past Canucks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and was away on a 2-on-1 with Kris Versteeg. Alexander Edler took away the pass, and Sharp made the Canucks pay. He deked to the backhand and beat Luongo to set the stage for an intense finish.