Canucks blow lead, still overcome 'Hawks
The blood was still oozing out of five stitches above Kyle Wellwood's left eye and a fat lower lip, and yet the Canucks forward couldn't stop smiling.
Wellwood had two assists, drew five power plays, lost one tooth and chipped another, but his biggest play in Vancouver's 5-3 series-opening victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night didn't show up on the score sheet.
Wellwood made the pass that started a 4-on-1 rush, and defenseman Sami Salo finished the play by banging in a rebound with 1:13 remaining, putting the Canucks back ahead after blowing a three-goal lead in the third period.
Ryan Johnson scored into an empty net with 15.5 seconds left to secure the Game 1 win.
"It's definitely not fun to have these marks on your face, but in the playoffs it feels all right," Wellwood said. "These aren't something you worry about too much, they get you attention more than anything."
After rallying with two goals by Patrick Kane and a tying marker from David Bolland with 5:29 left, the Blackhawks coughed up the puck on a late 4-on-2 rush of their own. Wellwood jumped on it and fed ahead to Mason Raymond, who sent a cross-ice pass to Steve Bernier for a one-timer that was stopped by a sliding Nikolai Khabibulin, leaving Salo alone to hammer in the rebound. Wellwood was especially happy to see the puck go in after turning the puck over for Chicago's 4-on-2.
"When I got it back I just threw it to Mase and me and Sami somehow were ahead of all their guys, too, so we just started heading toward the net and Sami put it in," said Wellwood, who was hit near the eye by Andrew Ladd's stick in the first period and in the mouth by Kane's in the second.
Pavol Demitra scored on a power play, and Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler added even-strength goals for Vancouver, 16-1-1 at home since February. Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinal series is Saturday night in Vancouver.
After Chicago rallied twice from three-goal deficits in its six-game victory over Calgary, Kane got the Blackhawks' rally started 1:01 into the third, pouncing on a loose puck in the slot and roofing a quick shot over Luongo's shoulder. Kane cut it one on a power-play rebound of Brent Seabrook's point shot, and Bolland tied it on another rebound off a long Duncan Keith shot.
"We had a great third period to start off. One mistake and it ends up in the back of your net, said Kane. "It's not going to be as easy as Calgary. They're a faster-paced team and we've got to keep up with them.
Khabibulin made 22 saves, including three great ones to keep it close early in the third period. He still hasn't beaten the Canucks since Jan. 26, 1998, with Phoenix, and didn't talk afterwards, leaving teammates to answer for him.
"He makes a great stop (on Bernier) but when you've got four guys going to the net and one guy defending, it's tough to keep that one out," Seabrook said about the winning goal. "We've got to be focused every time we're on the ice."
Nine days after sweeping St. Louis, Luongo made the best of his 28 saves five minutes into the game, robbing Martin Halva alone in front of the net.
The Canucks' power play, however, looked rusty early, failing to record a shot after Ladd got a 4-minute penalty for cutting Wellwood. But on the next shift, Wellwood walked around Keith to draw a hooking penalty, and Demitra opened the scoring after a nice passing play started by Wellwood.
Henrik Sedin doubled the lead 5 minutes into the second, and Kesler made it 3-0 with 5 minutes left in the period, banging Wellwood's pass from behind the net.
"Kyle was our best player on the ice," said Canucks coach Allan Vigneault of the baby-faced Wellwood. "At least now he looks like a hockey player."
Vigneault compared Chicago LW Ben Eager's elbow to the head of Rick Rypien, which earned a roughing penalty, to the hit that earned Washington's Donald Brashear a six-game suspension in the first round, and said the league was looking at it. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews and D Matt Walker both played after missing practice Wednesday, but Toews played less than 14 minutes, was minus-2 and lost eight of 11 faceoffs.