Hockey: Canucks return home, eager to erase bad memories
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Vancouver Canucks have talked at length about lessons they have learned from past postseason failures. Now they have a chance to prove it.
The Canucks' 4-2 loss at Chicago on Monday night in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinal series looked very much like Vancouver's defeat at the hands of the Blackhawks last year in Game 4.
Vancouver went into the third period of both games ahead with the chance to take a two-game lead in the series. Both times, the Canucks sat back and missed their chance to take control.
The Canucks never recovered last year. They blew leads the next two games, including several in a decisive 7-5 loss as the Blackhawks eliminated Vancouver in six games.
After splitting two games in Chicago in the rematch, the Canucks are heading home for Game 3 on Wednesday night — eager to erase bad memories.
"We're not even thinking like that right now," Canucks forward Ryan Kesler said. "Game 4 last year is out of our mind. You guys are acting like it's over. It's not over by any means. We lost a game. So what? We could have been up 2-0. So what?"
Asked if it felt as though the momentum had shifted, Kesler paused.
"Let me get through this negative energy before I answer that," the center said. "The series isn't over. It's a wash now."
The Blackhawks, who used a similarly late comeback to spark a first-round win over Nashville, view their home split differently.
"Momentum is huge in the playoffs," said forward Dave Bolland. "Once you get it you want to keep it as long as you can.
"We should get some energy and confidence off of winning. I know that coming off that we want to make sure we try to sustain the momentum we got off Game 2."
Bolland combined with Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg to limit Vancouver's top line to a 5-on-3 goal. Versteeg then scored the winner with 90 seconds left.
After a 5-1 blowout win in Game 1, the Canucks jumped out to a 2-0 lead five minutes into Game 2, outshooting Chicago 9-1. But instead of pressing, Vancouver let Chicago rookie goalie Antti Niemi off the hook. The Canucks managed just 15 shots over the final 55 minutes and none during a pair of third-period power plays. One of those advantages produced a short-handed goal by the Blackhawks that tied the game.
It wasn't the all-out retreat of a year ago, but it was still a departure from the plan for the Canucks, who have built on leads all season rather than sit on them.
"We played on the outside too much," said No. 1 center Henrik Sedin, who was minus-2 in Game 2. "We didn't create enough offensively."
The Blackhawks had a lot to do with it.
Chicago's defenders either figured out the forecheck that gave them fits early, or the Canucks stopped doing it aggressively enough. Either way, the Blackhawks were able to get out of their end smoothly and feed their skilled forwards in transition.
Chicago also upped the physical play by adding Ben Eager and Adam Burish to the lineup after they sat out Game 1. The hitting seemed to soften up the Canucks' defense that many felt might be overmatched by the Blackhawks' abundance of speedy, skilled forwards.
"Anytime you can get a hit, either team is going to hit guys to wear them down," Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell said. "They are doing it to us, too. A lot of times whoever wins those battles ... keeps putting the pressure is going to be successful in the series."
Burish and Eager were also trying to get under the Canucks' skin the way they did during last year's heated series. Both players went hard to the net throughout the game, and sent snow into the face of Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
"They put their meat in the lineup and they did the job," defenseman Shane O'Brien said. "Their guys are going hard to the net, snowing (Luongo), bumping him, slashing him. We've got to play a lot meaner, a whole lot grittier.
"It's playoff time. I was upset with the way we kind of didn't respond physically and emotionally. There has been a lot of talk about the fine line of not scrumming up, this and that. But at the end of the day, we're playing for the Stanley Cup here. You've got to push back. Show them that you want it."
The Canucks can take consolation in regaining home-ice advantage. They tied for the NHL's best home record with 30 wins in the regular season, and beat Los Angeles in two of three games in Vancouver during the first round.
Chicago won two games in Vancouver last season — overcoming deficits both times — and two of three road games in the first-round against Nashville.
"On the road you get that kind of really workmanlike attitude," Campbell said. "And not changing your game too much, you're really being blue collar out there. You really get geared up to play on the road.
"Obviously, it's fun to play at home but sometimes maybe you expect it's going to be a little bit easier. You could see that with what happened to us in Game 1."