CHICAGO (AP) Even when the Chicago Blackhawks trailed Vancouver 3-0 in their opening-round playoff series, captain Jonathan Toews was convinced the Canucks were a beatable team. And he wasn’t afraid to say it.
Now he and the defending Stanley Cup champ Blackhawks have two straight lopsided victories to prove it. And they can tie the series Sunday night at the United Center.
Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, so sharp the first three games, has given up 10 goals on Chicago’s last 40 shots. He was pulled both times in the Blackhawks’ 7-2 and 5-0 victories that have created a whole new series.
Luongo will still get the starter’s nod as the Canucks – who had the NHL’s best record in the regular season – try to regroup and wrap up the series Sunday.
“Momentum is overrated. When it was 3-0 everybody said we had momentum and they came out and took it to us, so at the end of the day it’s just about us playing our game and being ready right off the hop,” Luongo said Friday, the day he was announced as one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.
“We proved all year long we’re the best team in the league, we are just as good on the road as we are at home, so there’s no reason to have any doubts in our mind we can do this.”
The Blackhawks are trying to become the fourth team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit. In the last two games, they have found more room to skate in the middle of the ice, been able to keep the puck more often without being driven off it by a hard checks, created traffic in front of Luongo and gotten better angles against the Canucks’ ace goalie.
“We’ve stepped up our physical play. We’re being more aggressive.” Toews said. “Most of all, we’re not afraid to go get pucks and I think we were just a little bit tentative in those first couple games.”
And the Blackhawks also gotten production from their defenseman, most especially Duncan Keith, who had four points in Thursday night’s 5-0 whitewashing and has scored four goals in the last three games. He’s looking like the Norris Trophy winner of last season.
Keith has played especially inspired hockey on both ends after his running mate on the blue line, Brent Seabrook, was blasted to the ice by Vancouver’s Raffi Torres in Game 3 – a hit to the head the Blackhawks insisted should have resulted in a suspension. Seabrook has missed the last two games and Torres’ hit seemed to be a wakeup call for Chicago.
“Yeah, for sure,” Keith said Friday. “Brent’s a great teammate, a great friend of mine, and basically everybody in the locker room. To see that hit and see one of our guys like that, obviously you use that as motivation. But I think the biggest thing is just knowing we were in a bad spot and facing elimination and we haven’t played our best hockey.”
Chicago’s defense has bottled up the Sedin twins and the Blackhawks’ power play has produced four goals during the two victories.
But the big question is this: have the Blackhawks gotten into Luongo’s head as they seemingly did in the playoffs the previous two years when they ousted the Canucks in the conference semifinals both times?
“They got guys going to the net, but that’s my job to find those pucks even though they have one or two screens,” Luongo said.
“It doesn’t really matter what happened last year or the year before that or yesterday or anything like that. We’ve got to play 60 minutes of hockey the way we can to win a series and that’s what we have to be focused on.”
And the Canucks do still have the Blackhawks on the verge of elimination, needing a single win to close it out.
“They have to win two. We have to win one. Do we feel like we want to win this? Yes. Do we have to? Obviously not,” said Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, who had 41 regular-season goals but none so far in the playoffs.
“We are playing this like a Game 7. We are going to go into that building. We are going to play like we are playing for our lives. We are going to throw it all on the table.”
So are the Blackhawks, who got into the playoffs on the final day, only because Minnesota beat Dallas to give Chicago the eighth seed in the West.
“Things have tilted our way and we’re playing our best hockey of the year when it counts and every single guy is buying into that,” Toews said Friday after the team plane had touched back in Chicago.
“We have the potential to do something special if we keep going that way. And we’re not holding back.”
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