Darren Eliot
Friday May 1st, 2009

For 40 minutes, the Chicago Blackhawks did all they could to undermine their best efforts. They put the hometown Canucks on the power play seven times in the first two periods. The only possible good news is that the 'Hawks penalty killers got the job done six times. Still, the Canucks easily staked themselves to a 3-0 lead heading into the third.

Maybe that was the problem for the Canucks -- everything came too easily. A first-round sweep, 10 days off and a 3-0 lead -- it doesn't get much comfier than that this time of year. But that soon changed to begin the final stanza. Paced by Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks set their sights on a comeback immediately. Two goals by Kane -- one on the power play -- and the first-ever playoff goal by David Boland later and the game was tied. Just like that, the Canucks went from comfortable to decidedly uncomfortable.

All those early penalties stopped Chicago from establishing any kind of offensive flow. In the third, its aggressive defensemen had Vancouver reeling -- for a while, at least. But just as the all out, five-man pressure aided the comeback; it ultimately undid the 'Hawks as they pushed for the win late in the third. A four-man rush for Chicago turned into a 3-on-1 against, with Sami Salo following up at net for the game-winner on a short putback rebound.

Despite the penalties, this game didn't have the anticipated punishing physical edge. Ben Eager had one big open-ice hit and Darcy Hordichuk tried to respond in kind, but this one was pretty tame. In the third, the Canucks couldn't initiate. They look tired -- a possible residual of the long layoff. After seeing what was possible in the third period, the Blackhawks are going to view this as an opportunity lost. If they only could have stayed out of the penalty box ...

Expect Game 2 to be more physical and more intense. This one was interesting, but uneven on both sides. That will change Saturday, with both teams executing more consistently.

1. Sami Salo, Canucks: Anytime a player with five goals in the regular season scores his second game-winner of the playoffs, he deserves the first star. Especially given the circumstances -- the Canucks were reeling at the time and just holding on. Salo saved the day.

2. Patrick Kane, Blackhawks: He fueled the comeback and looked particular dangerous off to the side of the net. Kane singlehandedly reintroduced the notion of a king plays at the net to his team in the third. Maybe it will indeed carryover to Game 2.

3. Kyle Wellwood, Canucks: He was all around the action in periods one and two, making plays and drawing penalties. His two helpers got the Canucks going offensively -- particularly his creative feed to Ryan Kesler on his first career playoff goal.

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