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Blackhawks down Canucks 4-2; series tied 1-1

The Chicago Blackhawks scored three unanswered third period goals (including an empty-netter) to edge the Canucks 4-2, and tie the series at 1-1 tonight.

I expected the Hawks to come out flying after getting embarrassed in their own rink in game 1. But it was just the opposite.  Chicago seemed nervous. They frequently turned the puck over in their own end and made mental errors. 

The Canucks on the other hand came out buzzing and capitalized on the Blackhawks' early mistakes.  Mason Raymond batted in a rebound past Hawks starter Anti Niemi only 1:22 into the game to give Vancouver an early 1-0 lead. 

Then, under four minutes later on a 5-3 powerplay, Henrik Sedin fed Mikael Samuelsson a beauty cross-crease pass that “Sammy” slammed home.  The Canucks  had two more glorious scoring chances within the first five minutes that they couldn’t capitalize on.

Tsawwassen’s Brent Seabrook was a force all night on both ends of the rink for Chicago.  He set the tone physically for the Hawks and snapped home Chicago’s first goal on a sweet drop pass from Kevin Bieksa in front of the Vancouver net.  Yes, the same Kevin Bieksa that plays on the Canucks.  Bieksa, who has performed miserably all season, lackadaisically threw the puck into the slot while trying to clear a loose puck, and it landed directly on Seabrook’s stick .He easily buried it into an open net, beyond a diving Luongo. 

Seabrook finished with a goal and 2 assists and was +4 in the win.  Patrick Sharp scored a gorgeous shorthanded goal to tie the game 2-2 early in the third, then with only 1:30 remaining, Kris Versteeg sniped a shot over Luongo’s shoulder for the winner.  Patrick Kane scored the empty-netter to seal the deal.

Bieksa and Andrew Alberts were paired with each other for the first two periods before coach Alain Vigneault realized that playing two pylons together probably wasn’t the smartest thing, and swapped them up in the third.

 Vancouver was outplayed significantly for the last 40 minutes, but was able to keep the game close thanks to the captain in net.  Luongo finished with 31 saves, including 14 in the third period and a massive flailing save on Adam Burish midway through the second period.

The Sedins were rather ineffective throughout the game, trying to make the pretty play instead of putting pucks on net.  Their line(with Samuelsson) got caught up ice, resulting in a scrambly shift in which Versteeg eventually scored the game winner.  Vancouver’s top line finished a combined -5, and will undoubtedly have to better in game 3 in order for the Canucks to be successful.

Ryan Kesler continues to not seem right to me.  Kesler is usually in the middle of the rough stuff and usually hits everything in sight.  So far in the series, Kesler seems to be shying away from the hitting and the post-whistle scrums.  I wonder if he is nursing an injury?

Chicago was clearly the more physical team, and a huge Brent Seabrook hit on Rick Rypien  turned the tide of the game halfway through the first period.  Ben Eager and Adam Burish (both of whom I suggested should be inserted into the Hawk lineup after game 1) were both effective in their 4th line role, hitting everything in sight and being a thorn in the side of opposing players all night. 

Vancouver will need to up their physicality, and at least match Chicago in that department in order to be successful as they were bullied around in last year’s second round defeat to the Blackhawks too.

Lastly, the Canucks powerplay has got to be better.  They were only 1-6 and also allowed a few shorthanded chances, including Sharp’s goal.  Expect coach Vigneault to hit the drawing board on Tuesday and expect the powerplay to have some different looks come Wednesday night at home.

Watch game highlights here.

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