Wednesday May 6th, 2009

The Canucks played a textbook road game on Tuesday night. Two days earlier, in Game 2, they'd suffered a 6-3 drubbing when outskated decisively by the young Blackhawks, who wrested home-ice advantage. But on Tuesday, the road team withstood an energetic, five-minute opening charge. For the last 55 minutes, the Canucks poured molasses all over the game and clumped away with a well-constructed 3-1 win.

The Blackhawks needed an ocean of Drano to unclog the neutral zone. Every long and even medium-range pass met with an interception or deflection from Vancouver sticks. The Canucks were not excessively physical, as many defensive smotherings tend to be. Instead, they kept a third man high, cut off passing lanes, blocked shots, controlled the puck, played more of the game along the wall until they reached Chicago's zone and, in the words of their head coach Alain Vigneault, were efficiently boring. In so doing, they kept the crowd of 22,000-plus relatively quiet at a United Center that had been roaring from the moment Hawks legend Bobby Hull walked out for the pre-game ceremony.

"We didn't want to play this game chance-for-chance," Vigneault said after the game.

The Canucks managed only three shots on goal in each period, but made the most of them. Vigneault also came up looking good on some key decisions. He replaced injured forward Pavol Demitra in the lineup with Taylor Pyatt (Demitra took a hit in Game 2 from Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell and played the rest of the way favoring his shoulder) and moved winger Mason Raymond up to the second line with Mats Sundin and Ryan Kesler.

Raymond, who amassed only 24 points during the regular season, scored Vancouver's first goal of the game with 4½ minutes to play in the first period after Chicago goalie Nikolai Khabibulin made a poor pass around the boards. Perhaps in frustration, Chicago's Patrick Kane took an unnecessary hooking penalty in the final minute. The Hawks killed the 40 seconds before the break, but after intermission, Steve Bernier potted a rebound of a point shot by Alex Edler, who saw some key ice after an injured Sami Salo was deemed a non-starter for Game 3. Henrik Sedin then forced a puck through the pads of Khabibulin, who appeared to have the shot stopped before watching it slowly slide across the line behind him.

Between games, Vigneault had talked at length about his players keeping the game North-South, not making the unnecessary lateral pass, and limiting traffic in front of superstar goaltender Roberto Luongo. Granted, Luongo was good, making 23 saves on 24 shots, but he didn't have to be great although he did make a highlight save on Dave Bolland during a Chicago power play in the final period.

With the Canucks already solidly ahead 3-0 midway through the second period, Campbell beat Luongo with a slapper from center ice, just inside the blue line, for the only Blackhawks goal of the night. The rest of the way was farily ho-hum as the Canucks took a pair of minors for delay of game (shooting the puck out of play) early in the third period, but Chicago managed only one shot on the two advantages combined.

The home team had a tree's worth of great press clippings to read after a solid second game that confirmed its ability to use its speed, rally from deficits, and play with poise beyond its playoff experience. But the Canucks ruined the plot with a stifling game plan. If there was a silver lining to a game like this for the Hawks, coach Joel Quenneville couldn't find it.

"I didn't like anything about our game," he said.

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