The Canucks stayed alive in the Western Conference semifinal series with a 4-1 win in Chicago on Sunday that closed the deficit in the best-of-seven series to 3-2. Now they must now find a way to win Game 6 on Tuesday at home, where the Blackhawks won Games 3 and 4 by a score of 12-6.
It was in stark contrast to the regular season, when the Canucks had the NHL’s second-best home record, set a franchise record with 30 wins, and hadn’t lost consecutive games in regulation until last week. It might be time to bring the road style back home.
“Maybe a bit antsy at times, a little anxious, we feel like we have to be the aggressor maybe,” defenseman Kevin Bieksa(notes) said. “I don’t know what it is to tell you the truth, but the game we played on the road and won both (Games 1 and 5) was very similar. So we’ll try to do that.”
The Blackhawks packed extra clothes for their trip to Vancouver, hoping to end the Canucks’ season in six games for a second straight year and then travel directly to San Jose to start the Western Conference finals later this week.
Being 4-1 on the road in the playoffs has buoyed the Blackhawks’ confidence. But losing two of three at the United Center—and needing a third period comeback to win Game 2—also means they don’t want to host Game 7 on Thursday night.
As for why home ice hasn’t been a home advantage in the playoffs—the visitors have won four of five games in this series—both teams agreed it is easier to play a simple style on the road.
“Because at home you kind of want to get the crowd into it and play an exciting game for the crowd,” Kane said. “Hopefully, that’s what they do because I think when they do that it kind of matches up better for us.”
Vancouver might be forced to keep it simple after losing top defenseman Sami Salo(notes) late in the first period of Game 5. Salo was in obvious discomfort after being struck by Duncan Keith’s(notes) shot in the groin area. He was taken to a Chicago hospital, and Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said Salo is day-to-day after returning to Vancouver with the team on Monday afternoon.
“Sami is one of our most dependable two-way defensemen,” Vigneault said. “He plays 5-on-5, power play, penalty killing and he’s got a great shot.”
Without Salo, who was averaging almost 21 minutes of ice time in the playoffs, Vigneault said he would turn to Lawrence Nycholat(notes), who spent all season in the AHL. Nycholat hasn’t played an NHL game since March 2009, and has never been in the playoffs.
Either way, the Canucks pledged to maintain the style that won Game 5.
They tightened up defensively and were less aggressive on the forecheck, content to force turnovers on Blackhawks breakouts with positioning rather than pace.
The biggest difference, though, was better discipline throughout the lineup, and better rebound control by Roberto Luongo(notes). Vancouver was short-handed 14 times in two home games and gave up six power-play goals, most on second chances.
Vancouver took only four penalties in Game 5, and was aggressive short-handed, taking away Chicago’s space and time and giving up just three shots while killing those penalties.
“It’s a team game,” said Luongo, who made the best of his 29 saves early. “We all have to step it up as a team. If we want to move on we’ve got to play the best hockey we’ve played all year. It’s not on one guy to make a difference. It’s on everybody to make sure they give a little extra.”
After trying too many cute passes at home, Chicago will try to get back into Luongo’s face on the road and create the kind of scrambles they capitalized on so often in Games 3 and 4.
“Instead of making that extra pass, get that extra shot on net and maybe crash it and try to get rebounds, especially on Luongo,” Kane said. “The biggest thing is to get shots and traffic.”