Canucks in command against Blackhawks
The Vancouver Canucks are dishing out the hits, knocking the Chicago Blackhawks into the boards, off the puck and maybe out of the playoffs.
A ferociously physical defense backed by goalie Roberto Luongo has helped Vancouver build a 2-0 lead in the first-round series. Now the action shifts to the United Center.
Can the Blackhawks get untracked on home ice beginning Sunday night in Game 3?
They're going to need more input from their big scoring stars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa or the defending Stanley Cup champs could be making vacation plans real soon. Those four have totaled one assist - by Kane - in the first two games.
''It's always tough when you can't contribute individually, especially when you lose both games. I know I'm counted on to provide offense,'' Sharp said Saturday, adding he's not pressing
''I think the only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself. That kind of stuff happens in a playoff series. Been through that before.''
The Canucks' line depth has been a factor in the first two games, especially against Chicago's top guns.
''They are well conditioned athletes, I'm sure they can handle it. We're going to keep playing them hard and try to wear them down as much as possible,'' said Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, one of the NHL's top defensive centers.
''When you are playing that many minutes, if they are easy minutes and we're not physical on them, then it makes their job even easier. ... Nothing is better than scoring a goal, but shutting those guys down is fun.''
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said one area where the team's top scorers can play better is on the power play, where the Blackhawks are 0 for 5 so far in the series.
''We need more from those guys, whether it's offensive zone time, puck possession time, quality scoring chances and we need production at the end of it,'' Quenneville said. ''The power play last night really took us out of the game. You are not going to get many in the series.''
The Canucks will have forward Raffi Torres available for the first time in the series, giving them yet another physical presence. Torres was suspended four games - the last two of the regular season and first two of the playoffs - for his hit to the head of Oilers forward Jordan Eberle earlier this month.
''Raffi is Raffi, he is a physical energy guy and that part of his game is not going to change,'' Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. ''We all know Raffi, he won't be gun shy.''
Torres said the rough and tough approach by the Canucks appears to be working against players like Kane, who took a huge hit from Alexander Edler in Game 2
''It almost looks like he doesn't want the pucks at some points,'' Torres said. ''But at the end of the day, you know those guys are going to come back stronger than ever in Chicago and we've just got to keep doing the same thing.''
Quenneville expects is team to respond, especially on home ice.
''I don't think we're shying away from contact,'' he said. ''Whether it's our support men or our puck possession game, we can be stronger and better.''
After getting blanked 2-0 in the opener, the Blackhawks have one source of optimism - they finally got some pucks past Luongo in Game 2 and were denied a tie after a frantic last-minute rush.
They got a lift from rookie and former Boston College star Ben Smith, who scored two goals.
''Trying to beat him on the initial shot, you're not going to have much luck,'' Quenneville said of Luongo. ''You got to penetrate the slot in front of him and hang around in that area.''
NOTES: Vancouver second-line LW Mikael Samuelsson was a late scratch Friday because of illness but could play Sunday. ... Quenneville said RW Tomas Kopecky, who got hurt in the opener and missed Game 2, is progressing. LW Bryan Bickell, who left the ice holding his wrist Friday night, will be re-evalutated Sunday, and center Dave Bolland is doubtful with a concussion. Bolland missed the final 14 games of the regular season.