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Canucks getting tough for Game 3

05.05.2010 /2:45 PM ET

VANCOUVER -- For Game 2, the Chicago Blackhawks changed their fourth line, inserting Adam Burish and Ben Eager onto a line with John Madden. They didn't add offense, but they added toughness that was lacking in Game 1 and it resulted in a victory.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault appears to be countering that move for Game 3.

It's the playoffs, and no one gives out any information about lineup changes and injuries, but it looks like Ryan Johnson and Darcy Hordichuk are going to get a crack at fourth-line minutes for the Canucks, replacing Michael Grabner and Jannik Hansen.

Johnson, a shot-blocking machine who has been out since early April after taking a blast off his foot, is excited about getting a chance to get into his first postseason game of 2010 and doesn't plan to change anything about his game.

"I'll be doing what I'm doing. I wouldn't come into this lineup with hesitation in my game," said Johnson, who said he will wear special protectors on his skates for the rest of his career. "I'm in great shape. I always take a lot pride in that. My wind is not going to be an issue. The tempo is going to be fast, but I play a fast game."

Hordichuk, who accumulated 142 penalty minutes in 56 games this season, doesn't think it'll be hard to straddle line between playing physical and taking penalties.

"It's about knowing your role and going out there and doing it," said Hordichuk, who hasn't played since April 4. "I'm going to be going in there and trying to time (my hits) and see if we can make some things happen out there."

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The Blackhawks are being even less forthcoming about their lineup changes, but Dustin Byfuglien skated on a line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on Wednesday morning at GM Place. That likely means Troy Brouwer to the bench and the return of defenseman Jordan Hendry.

-- Dave Lozo

Burish has respect for Ryan Johnson's abilities

05.02.2010 /5:55 PM ET

If the Stars War trilogy (Episodes IV-VI, not the other three we'll pretend never happened) taught us anything, it's that hate can destroy you. There's plenty of it floating around the locker rooms of the Blackhawks and Canucks, who have no trouble telling you how much they dislike each other.

But it can't be everybody, right? Someone has to like someone, don't they?

Blakhawks forward Adam Burish admitted a fondness for one Canuck player, partly for his style of play and partly for, well, other reasons.

"If I had to pick one guy, it'd probably be Ryan Johnson," Burish said. "Two reasons -- I like the way he plays. He plays hard and he's fearless. He's just an unbelievable character guy to be doing stuff like that, I've got a lot of respect for that guy.

"Plus he was dating Erin Andrews, so that's pretty sweet too. He's probably the one guy I'd hang out with and have a couple beers with."

Sounds like he'd rather hang out with the ESPN reporter more than the Canuck shot-blocker.

"Maybe I'll have the beer with him and Erin Andrews and I will hang out after," he said.

Kris Versteeg also let his guard down.

"I've hung out with Kyle Wellwood," Versteeg said. "He's a pretty cool guy to talk to, a nice guy."

Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa took his time thinking about who he likes on the Blackhawks before finally giving his answer.

"One guy on their team? I'm sure one of their medical assistants are good guys," Bieksa said.

-- Dave Lozo

It's Antti again for Game 2

05.02.2010 /5:55 PM ET

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was asked for the first time in a long time about which goalie would start Chicago’s next game.

 

His answer was short and to the point.

 

"Antti's playing, no doubt," Quenneville said of Antti Niemi, who was pulled after giving up five goals in two periods of Friday's 5-1 Game 1 shellacking. "He's played very well for us down the stretch. He played a very good series against Nashville and he was fine last night. It was easy to make a change going into the third period to get him rested and get him excited."

 

The Hawks didn't practice on Saturday, but Quenneville said that Niemi went over a few things with Chicago goaltending coach Stephane Waite.

 

Hawks defenseman Brent Sopel also said that he planned to have a talk with Niemi before Game 2.

 

"I'll just talk to him," Sopel said. "We'll have a conversation real quickly. He played really well. Couple of rebounds. Couple of mistakes … but you can't blame that on him. He'll go back and regroup. He's pretty calm. He doesn't wrap himself up too tight."

-- Brian Hedger

 

Canucks weren't overlooked -- or were they?

05.02.2010 /5:55 PM ET

There was some talk during the Hawks' press conference Saturday about them possibly overlooking the Canucks coming into the series after downing Vancouver in six games a year ago.

 

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville gave that thought life when he said, "I guess we can look back at the score and the way it was played out -- maybe there was a bit of disrespect going into the series."

 

Defenseman Brent Sopel didn't think so.

 

"We know they're a great team and obviously what happened last year, beating them in the playoffs … that adds a little diesel to the fire," he said. "So, we knew it definitely wasn't going to be easy."

-- Brian Hedger

Keith has plenty left

05.02.2010 /5:55 PM ET

Chicago's top defensive pair of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook is logging lots of ice time, and some wonder if Keith might be getting worn out after having no answer why the Hawks were so slow in Game 1.

 

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville isn't worried.

 

"They do log a lot of minutes," he said of Seabrook and Keith. "They're going to be challenged in this series against the Sedins. Awareness as to how they're feeling is part of it, but I think (Keith) is accustomed to playing up to 30 minutes (a game). He can absorb a lot of ice time and he's got a lot of energy in his body and he takes care of himself real well. We'll keep an eye on him, but he's certainly not a guy you have to worry about too much."

 

Keith had two giveaways and was minus-1 in 22:58 in Game 1.

-- Brian Hedger

Home crowd pressure not an issue

05.02.2010 /5:55 PM ET

Chicago has one of the best, if not the best, pre-game traditions in the League with its rendition of the national anthem.

 

As the anthem is sung, Hawks fans cheer as loud or louder than they do when the Hawks score a goal -- bringing a fevered pitch to the United Center just before the puck is dropped. If the Hawks don’t score within the first half of the period, the crowd then becomes much more silent.

 

That sometimes seems to negate the home-ice advantage, but Patrick Sharp disagreed.

 

"I don't think we feel that pressure (to score early) at all," he said. "Our home record's been great the past couple years and the atmosphere and our fans has a lot of do with that. There's a lot of questions whether home teams feel the pressure in every game, but I think we use it to our advantage. We came out strong (in Game 1). (Roberto) Luongo made some big saves to keep them in it."

-- Brian Hedger

 

No big deal

05.02.2010 /5:55 PM ET

Some might think that getting blown away by four goals in front of your own fans on national television in the series opener of the conference semifinals might sting more than merely losing a close game.

 

Not so, according to Patrick Sharp.

 

"It's kind of tough to look at the final score at the end of the day, but a 5-1 loss in the playoffs is still a loss," he said. "It doesn't matter what the score is."

-- Brian Hedger

Balance and Luongo key for Canucks

05.02.2010 /3:45 PM ET

The Vancouver Canucks held a "very" optional skate on Sunday afternoon at United Center. And as you can imagine for yourself if your boss told you coming into work on Monday was "very" optional, some players decided to take the day off.

But coming off a 5-1 dismantling of the Chicago Blackhawks in Saturday's Game 1, the very optional practice was very well-deserved.

The win was the Canucks' fourth straight, and it's no coincidence that it marked the fourth straight game in which the once-beleaguered penalty killing unit put forth a fine performance. The Blackhawks' only goal in Game 1 came on a 5-on-3 power play early in the third period when the game was already over, but the Canucks' penalty-killing unit is now 18 for its last 20 in man-down situations.

"Our penalty killing has been fine," said coach Alain Vigneault. "We went through a stretch there when the bounces weren't going our way."

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There were two big reasons for the Canucks' dominance in Game 1 -- Roberto Luongo and goals from all four lines.

The game-changing save on Patrick Kane was undoubtedly the moment that changed everything. Sure, the Canucks had to kill a penalty right after that, but everyone said that save with just under seven minutes left in the first period really gave the team a lift.

"It's huge for a team's psyche when you make a mistake -- and there are mistakes made out there -- and your goalie bails you out," said Vigneault. "It's huge for the confidence and the momentum. And thinking of last night when we made it 1-0 and the puck bounces over (Alexander Edler's) stick at the blue line and there top offensive player goes on a breakaway and Lui stops him.

"Without a doubt that has a huge effect throughout the group when the players know if they make a mistake, the guy in goal has a good chance of bailing them out, that's huge."

That save was just one of many Luongo made. He was in a zone from the start, and when he's playing like that, just knowing he's back there can change the feeling on the bench.

"Whenever we don't feel comfortable on the ice or they got some momentum, being able to rely on him when he's playing well is a big advantage," said forward Kyle Wellwood.

"He's one of the best in the world," said Henrik Sedin. "If he's on top of his game, we can bring our offense like we did yesterday. I think we showed what kind of game we can play. He saved us in the first, we scored five goals, that was the bottom line. It would've been a totally different game if they scored the first goal."

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That brings us to the other facet of the Canucks' win -- offense from everyone.

All four lines chipped in with a goal, and a fifth one came from defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. Henrik Sedin, Mason Raymond, Kyle Wellwood and Michael Grabner all scored to chase Blackhawks goaltender Anti Niemmi.

"Against such a strong opponent that has so much firepower, you need contributions from everyone," said Vigneault. "There's no doubt about that."

"You have to make sure support guys are support guys are putting the game away so that (the top-line guys) don't have to waste that much energy," said Wellwood, whose power-play goal midway through the second period made it 4-0.

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Winning Game 1 is all well and good, but the Canucks took Game 1 of this series last year before falling in six games. Reminders certainly aren't needed that winning one games is about as meaningless as it gets.

"Even against L.A. in the first series, we won the first game and lost the second one," said Henrik Sedin. "That should be enough for us to know that we have to be ready to win the next game."

And you can expect the Blackhawks to bring a far better game to the United Center for Monday night's Game 2.

"They're going to be hungry tomorrow night for sure," Raymond said. "They're going to be more physical. It's definitely going to a highly intense game."

-- Dave Lozo

What a stunner

05.01.2010 /11:40 PM ET

Roberto Luongo's last two playoff visits to the United Center couldn't have been more dissimilar.

Slightly less than a year after the Blackhawks got to him for seven goals in a second-round series-clinching win over Vancouver, the gold medal-winning goaltender kept his team in the game early before the Canucks' offense kicked in. The result: A shocking 5-1 win over Chicago in the opener of their Western Conference Semifinal series.

To Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, there was no question who made the difference.

"The difference tonight was that we were able to finish and they couldn't finish," Vigneault said. "Our goaltender shut them down, and we were able to get to theirs."

Just don't expect Luongo to admit that his performance meant anything to him personally.

"It meant nothing to me," he told the assembled media after his brilliant showing -- which included stopping all 17 Chicago shots in the opening period. "It's only one game, and we're here to win four games."

Three more performances like that one and he'll have accompished his goal.

--John Kreiser

Campbell recalls a nervous Niemi

04.30.2010 / 4:30 PM ET

Brian Campbell never will forget the first time he saw Antti Niemi pull on a Blackhawks jersey.

 

It happened last season. The young Finnish goalie was a nervous wreck after being called up from AHL Rockford. As Campbell recalls, Niemi half-ran, half-walked to the ice and pretty much looked like a train wreck on skates.

 

"He's walking out for his first game and his pads are flapping everywhere and his chest protector was outside of his jersey," Campbell said Friday, following a practice at the United Center. "I couldn't believe this guy was going to play net for us. Usually goalies love their gear to look (a certain) way and be perfect. I was like, 'Whoa … OK, here we go. Whatever you say.'"

 

Just a little more than a year later, Campbell and the Hawks feel confident with Niemi in the net as they prepare to face high-powered nemesis Vancouver in a Western Conference Semifinal series that starts Saturday (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC).

-- Brian Hedger