VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The Chicago Blackhawks have taken over their second-round playoff series against Vancouver by winning the fight in front of both nets.
The Canucks are pledging to change that Friday night in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Led by a hat trick from 6-foot-4, 257-pound forward Dustin Byfuglien, Chicago scored four goals in a 5-2 win on Wednesday night by going hard to the net to bang in rebounds. The fifth goal came after goalie Roberto Luongo was pushed back into his net by Byfuglien before the puck went in.
Instead of complaining about Chicago's bumping, poking and prodding of Luongo, the Canucks will try to do the same to Blackhawks rookie Antti Niemi as they try to even the best-of-seven series.
"Chicago is not a better team than us," Luongo said. "They're not playing better than us. They are just doing a better job in front of the net on both sides. Dustin is doing a good job of what he's doing and he's not getting called for it so he's taking advantage of it.
"We've got to realize we can do the same on the other side and make sure we get some presence, get some sticks in the crease when the pucks are there and maybe get their guy a little bit off balance."
The Blackhawks have done that effectively against Luongo, outscoring the Canucks 8-2 in the last four periods, including a third-period comeback to win Game 2 in Chicago. But they have been just as good at protecting Niemi, whose rebounds were exploited in a lopsided Game 1 loss to Vancouver.
"We've been doing a good job getting to Luongo, and they're going to want to do the same thing so we've just got to try and stand in front of (Niemi) and let him see pucks and help him out best we can," Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "We're trying to keep them to the outside."
Vancouver was 0 for 4 on the power play in Game 3 and failed to generate shots during key third-period advantages the past two games.
"It's hard work and will," Canucks center Ryan Kesler said. "Take a page out of their books and just get in front of (Niemi's) face, jam at his pads and take his eyes away and bump him. That's what they are doing to Louie and that's what we are going to have to do to him."
Chicago is aware of the Canucks' game plan.
"They will talk a big game going into (Friday) night," said captain Jonathan Toews, who had three assists in Game 3. "We're expecting them to come out really hard, too. We will be ready for that."
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault credited the Blackhawks for going hard to the net and getting in Luongo's face and space. But he also said some players crossed the line on goalie interference. Vigneault suggested the Canucks need to play the same was if the referees are going to allow it.
"The guy going to the net hardest for them and getting away with the most is probably Toews," Vigneault said. "He's pitch-forked. He's run Louie. He's done everything you need to do create offense. And on top of that he's a real skilled player, so we know what we need to do here."
Whether Vancouver has the personnel to play that way remains to be seen. The Canucks don't have anyone like Byfuglien, who they admit is too big to clear from the front of their net.
Leading scorers Daniel and Henrik Sedin rely more on pinpoint passing and a good cycle game. But at even strength they have been shut down the last two games by the combination of the Seabrook-Duncan Keith defense pair and a checking line of Dave Bolland, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg. On the power play, the Sedins have been too content to stay on the perimeter.
"It's not about running the goalie," said Daniel Sedin, who has just one assist after 10 points in the first round. "It's about getting to the front of the net, standing there, being strong."
Vigneault agreed it was about the will to go to tough areas, but said they also have to make tactical adjustments. He wouldn't say if that includes lineup changes, an area in which Chicago has done well in the series.
In addition to moving Byfuglien up from defense to the top forward line for Game 3, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville brought agitators Adam Burish and Ben Eager into the lineup after a 5-1 loss in the opener. Just like they did in Chicago's six-game victory over Vancouver last year, the duo has raised the physical play and gotten under the skin of the Canucks.
After talking about maturity and composure before Game 3, Sedin took himself off a power play with an uncharacteristic attack on Bolland. Alex Burrows took an unsportsmanlike penalty just after the Canucks got within a goal, allowing Byfuglien to restore the two-goal cushion.
The Blackhawks certainly noticed that the Sedin twins spent as much time and effort in Game 3 trying to make big hits as they did scoring goals.
"One of them hit me really hard and I thought, 'This is going to be good. This is going to be fun. They are punching back, kicking back,'" Seabrook said. "That was good on our part."