VANCOUVER – It wasn’t the Vancouver Canucks’ best game of the season. It just felt that way.
That’s what happens when you whip the Chicago Blackhawks 5-1 with a defence that could make a Taylor Swift video seem threatening. Undermanned, and underdogs, the Canucks weren’t able to make up for the playoffs. But they were able to make a statement.
The first star was obvious. In a game during which he had to be brilliant, Roberto Luongo was more.
The second star? That’s debatable. But if you said either Henrik Sedin or The Roxy, you could make a winning case. But whether the win was about what the Canucks did on the ice Saturday — or what the Hawks did off of it Friday — it’s the result that matters. And Saturday’s was one the Canucks will savour, thank you.
If you want to list the teams Vancouver players despise the most, Chicago would finish in the top two.
“We really wanted this one bad,” said Shane O’Brien, who played more than 20 minutes for a third straight game and looked good doing it. “We don’t like those guys very much.”
Not that you would know that from watching Hockey Night in Canada Saturday. Not one Canuck was on the telecast in what is believed to be punishment for the Ron MacLean snow job on Alex Burrows.
Now, what the Canucks hate the most about the Hawks is how last season ended, though Ryan Kesler’s loathing of Andrew Ladd comes close.
“It’s always good beating those guys,” Kesler said. “It’s turned into a rivalry.”
Yes, it has. For what happened in Game 6, Luongo got some payback.
It was a signature game for him and he got his signature moment in the third. If the Canucks three first-period goals set the tone, it was Luongo’s save on Cam Barker that served as the exclamation point.
Without a stick, he sprawled across the crease and gloved a slapper with his outstretched hand. It wasn’t his most important save. But it was among his most spectacular. You can put that on his career-highlight reel right now.
Kesler was still clearly thinking about the Canucks second-round playoff loss when he was going at it with Ladd, who hit him from behind in the series. It finally boiled over into a first-period fight during which Kesler took a pop to the face before body slamming Ladd to the ice.
“He’s a coward, he’ll always be a coward,” Kesler said. “At least he was man enough to hit me when I was looking this time.”
With three of their best defencemen — Sami Salo, Willie Mitchell and Kevin Bieksa — all out with injuries, the Canucks needed a good start. They got it 7:19 into the first when Kelser hit the post, before collecting his own rebound finding Mikael Samuelsson gliding in toward an open net. Samuelsson easily poked the puck up over starter Antti Niemi.
It’s not the first time the Canucks have faced a situation where they’ve lost several defencemen at once to injuries. Having been through it before helps.
“Most of the guys have been through it before and we realize life goes on,” Luongo said. “You can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have to keep winning.”
They’ll have to do it again Monday as all three of those veterans will miss the Buffalo game. Look for the Sabres to provide more of a challenge.
Because the way the Canucks swatted the Chicago Blackhawks out of GM Place Saturday looked suspiciously easy. Part of it was the Hawks’ goaltending which, for one game at least, was the Achilles heel everyone said it would be before the season started. That isn’t likely to happen against the Sabres who are backstopped by Vezina favourite Ryan Miller.
For the Hawks, the insult came with 1:38 left in the first when Steve Bernier beat Niemi with a blind backhand.
That was it for Niemi who was replaced by Cristobal Huet to start the second.
The Hawks had one breath of life in the third. Toews scored to cut Vancouver’s lead to 3-1. But before you could say “Look out for the comeback,” Henrik snapped in his 23rd goal of the season. It’s a career high which helped him take a four-point lead over Alex Ovechkin in the NHL scoring race.
The Vancouver Province