On Wednesday night it was Dustin Byfuglien making Roberto Luongo’s life hell. On Friday, it was the Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews.
Toews is the first player in the long history of Chicago’s Original Six franchise to score three power play goals in the same game, and his two assists helped the Blackhawks emerge from Vancouver with two strong statement victories.
The game opened with furious back-and-forth action. It took only 18 seconds for the Blackhawks to get on the board, as Brent Seabrook slapped the puck past Luongo on Toews’ first assist. Less than 90 seconds later, however, Kyle Wellwood tied the game. Once the score was tied at one, it appeared the nervous part of the game settled down into stupidity for the Canucks.
Shane O’Brien took two stupid, selfish penalties in the first period, and just eight seconds after he sat down in the box Toews scored his first goal. The Blackhawks murdered the Canucks on special teams on the night, and Toews was the primary assasin. Vancouver didn’t want to go to the dressing rooms down in a crucial game at home, and Daniel Sedin made sure the score was at least tied after the first period. In the second, though, the Canucks couldn’t control the Blackhawks or their emotions.
Sami Salo was called for holding with just 23 seconds left in the first, and it took only 27 seconds of the middle frame for Toews to beat Luongo again. Four wreckless penalties in a row in the middle part of the second, the first two by Daniel Sedin, opened the door wide open and the Blackhawks blasted through it. The Hawks would only convert on two of the four power plays, but with a 5-2 lead established (as well as Toews’ hat trick and five points in hand), the game appeared to be over for the Canucks.
Vancouver was guilty of taking cheap shots instead of playing the puck, turning the puck over while trying to make unnecessary passes, and trying to force empty physical action away from the play. Credit the younger, and less experienced, Blackhawks for maintaining their composure and capitalizing on the opportunities they were gifted by the Canucks all night.
In the final period, the Blackhawks controlled the action and added two goals to extend to a final score of 7-4. The Blackhawks received contributions from almost every line again on Friday night, as Toews was joined on the score sheet by Patrick Sharp, Tomas Kopecky and Dave Bolland. Bolland’s line, with Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd, did a great job with Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith in effectively handling the Sedin twins in the two games in Vancouver, and Kopecky has continues to play at a championship level since the Olympics.
Who would have thought, back in July when the Blackhawks introduced Kopecky and his friend Marian Hossa together after signing the two as free agents, that Kopecky would have more playoff goals (three) than Hossa (two) through 10 games!
Sharp has benefited from playing between the two Slovak Olympians; he was credited with three assists with his power play goal on Friday night. On any other night, four points from a Blackhawks skater in Vancouver would have been the headlines, but Friday night was all about Toews.
The Hawks captain led the Canadian team to gold in the very stadium where he notched his first playoff hat trick on Friday night, and continues to play at the same level that earned him the Most Outstanding Forward honors at the Winter Games. His five points on Friday night push him ahead of Johan Franzen and Sidney Crosby for the overall playoff lead with 18 points to date.
In two games in Vancouver, an arena that boasted they had the best fans in the NHL and an environment the Hawks wouldn’t be ready for, the Blackhawks outscored the Canucks 12-6. They had two hat tricks, solid defense, and exceptional puck control. Most importantly, they’re healthy with a 3-1 lead coming home with a chance to close out the series at the United Center on Mother’s Day.
The only question for the Canucks is whether or not Andrew Raycroft is their best option between the pipes. The Blackhawks team hotel very well could have been between Luongo’s ears, and the quality of the goals he’s allowed in the past three games shows that he’s not playing his best hockey.