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Canucks-Blackhawks: Vancouver Escapes Game One by the Skin of Their Teeth

Joel LefevreAnalyst IMay 1, 2009

The Canucks remain perfect in the playoffs, but really had to sweat this one.

Vancouver escaped Game one at GM Place with a 5-3 victory over the young Chicago Blackhawks

As expected, the Hawks came out flying. On the other side, the Canucks appeared to be shaking the rust of nine days rest.

Luongo had to be sharp early on.  Chicago, however, shot themselves in the foot early, with eight minutes of penalties taken in the first period.

This allowed Vancouver to get their legs back following a long layoff.  Pavol Demitra made them pay late in the first, as he took a wonderful feed from Mats Sundin to put the Canucks ahead at the end of the first.

The Canucks appeared to draw momentum from this, as they came out very strong in the second—and the Blackhawks' inexperience appeared to be showing.  The Sedins increased the lead five minutes into the second, when Henrik Sedin took a great feed from brother Daniel to bury it through the legs of Khabibulin, who appeared to fighting the puck through the first forty minutes of this game. 

Vancouver looked to be home and cool when Ryan Kesler got his first of the playoffs late in the frame.  A three-goal lead with the best goalie in the world after all is nothing to be worried about. 

Right? 

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Well, perhaps last round that may have been the case—but the Hawks showed in the third that they are a far tougher and more resilient team that people give them credit for. 

Quickly in the third, the Canucks looked to be reeling when Patrick Kane fired home a loose puck in front upstairs on Luongo.  From there, the comeback was on, as Chicago showed that their comebacks over Calgary were no fluke.

The Blackhawks quickly regained momentum—and the Canucks didn't help themselves with undisciplined play, as Darcy Hordichuk took a stupid boarding penalty 200 feet from his goal to give the Hawks a chance to get back into the game.  The young Hawks wasted no time, as Patrick Kane scored his second of the game on the power play to really put the Canucks back on their heels. 

You could really feel a huge letdown at GM Place, as the young Hawks were really putting the pressure on, and the veteran Canucks appeared to have lost their legs in the third.  Maybe the long delay finally caught up to the Canucks, because before you knew it, Chicago was even at three when Dave Bolland fired a rebound home past Luongo. 

The wheels had fallen off, the building was dead, and Chicago appeared to have everything going their way.  But out of nowhere, just when the game appeared certain to be headed to overtime, the Hawks' inexperience showed.

Chicago had four guys caught pinching in on the Vancouver end, and the Canucks came back with a four-on-one. Sami Salo did well to follow up a brilliant Khabibulin save to put the Canucks back on top 4-3 with just over a minute to go.  Seconds later, Ryan Johnson iced the game into an empty net for the 5-3 victory.

Whether it was inexperience or overconfidence, the Blackhawks blew a huge chance in the third—not only to take home-ice advantage from Vancouver, but to really deflate the spirits of the Canucks, who had everything going their way through 40 minutes. 

Vancouver really sat back in the third and looked more tentative then they've looked perhaps since their extended loosing streak in January.  They will take the win—but without a doubt the Hawks showed in the third that they are no pushover, and that they will be a far tougher team to handle than the Blues

Kyle Wellwood was perhaps the best player on the ice.  He had two assists, was 7-0 in the faceoff circle in the third, drew eight minutes in penalties, and lost a pint of blood for the cause—all in 18 minutes' work. Not bad for a guy that nobody wanted at the start of the year. 

Luongo was relatively quiet, given the activity he saw in Round One.  He stopped 28 shots in the Game One win.  Khabibulin stopped 22 shots—many key ones on the two four-minute penalties, when the Canucks appeared to be overzealous and very impatient. 

Khabibulin has not won against Vancouver since January 26, 1998, while playing with the Phoenix Coyotes

Sami Salo was far and away the best defenceman for the Canucks.  He was rock solid, standing up his men time and again, and got his second game-winning goal of the playoffs for his fifth point in five games. 

In spite of the poor third period, Vancouver remains the only team this season to be unbeaten when going into the third with the lead. 

So first blood goes to to Vancouver.  They will hope to learn their lesson from the third going into Game Two Saturday, as they aim to keep home-ice advantage before heading to Chicago.