LIVE: Blackhawks trail Canucks 2-0 in 3rd period

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LIVE: Blackhawks trail Canucks 2-0 in 3rd period

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Posted: 10:43 a.m.

Associated Press

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks have plenty of recent rich history in their rivalry.

The past three seasons alone have included everything from hair pulling to body slams, name calling to calling out. Most important to any good NHL rivalry, the past two years it ended with Chicago knocking the Canucks out of the playoffs.

With a history like that, you'd think it would be easy to get players talking about each other before their first-round series kicks off Wednesday in Vancouver. Think again.

"You don't really need any more story lines," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, who earlier this season accused Chicago counterpart Joel Quenneville of running up the score in a 7-1 November romp.

"Do you want me to do like that Jets coach here: 'it's between me and Quenneville?' No, there's a tremendous amount of story lines because of the history between both of these teams."

For all the bitter history, the focus going into the best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series was how much these two teams have changed since last season.

Chicago went on to win the Stanley Cup after eliminating Vancouver in six games in the second round for a second straight season.

But the Blackhawks were forced to shed 11 players to stay under the salary cap, including several key Canucks' antagonists, and needed help from Minnesota beating Dallas in the final game of the season Sunday just to make it back into the playoffs.

Meanwhile the Canucks, in part because of improvements made after losing again to Chicago, set franchise records for points (117) and wins (54) and became the first team since the 1977-78 Canadiens to lead the league in goals for and against while winning the Presidents' Trophy.

Listening to them talk about each other, you'd think each team was running the other's fan club.

The only disagreement was which team was the favorite.

"We're certainly underdogs in this series," Quenneville said.

Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo didn't sound quite as certain.

"Far as I know they're still Stanley Cup champs," he said.

Maybe so, but these are not the same Blackhawks that hoisted the Cup. Gone are goalie Antti Niemi and forward Andrew Ladd, who was once called a "coward" by Canucks center Ryan Kesler.

Big-bodied forward Dustin Byfuglien, who made life miserable in Luongo's crease, was traded, as was Kris Versteeg, who scored two game-winning goals in the last playoff series.

"They still have (Jonathan) Toews, (Patrick) Kane, (Duncan) Keith, and (Brent) Seabrook," Luongo said. "That's a dangerous team. They know how to win."

Especially in Vancouver, where the Canucks also host Game 2 on Friday before the series shifts to Chicago for Games 3 and 4. The Blackhawks won all three games in Vancouver last postseason, including a conclusive 5-1 victory in Game 6, and have a 5-1 record here the past two playoffs.

"Any mental edge would be thrown out the window the way the years have gone," Kane said. "But you always hope you have a mental edge and hope you are in the back of their minds that what happened wasn't a fluke and could happen again."

The Canucks say they learned from the losses, especially handing Chicago a run of power plays with undisciplined penalties in Games 3 and 4. They made changes to personnel, strengthening their defensive depth and adding grit up front. But the biggest adjustment was to their personality.

Just as they refused to repeat last season's talk about wanting to play Chicago and being eager for redemption, the players, led by former agitators Kesler and Alex Burrows, made a conscious effort to reduce trash talk to opponents and officials, something they learned from the Blackhawks.

"If you learn from the past there's a good chance the future will be different," Vigneault said. "We've proven a lot of things during the regular season and now it's our turn to try and prove it in the playoffs."

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Avalanche tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Avalanche tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Colorado Avalanche tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Keep it simple.

There is no team in the league that scores fewer goals per game (2.00) and allows more goals per game (3.32) than the Avalanche, who are 4-18-1 in their last 23 games, including 1-7-0 in their past eight. The Blackhawks need to keep it simple, get bodies in front of the net and take advantage on special teams against a team that ranks in the bottom-seven in both the power play and penalty kill.

2. Will Jonathan Toews' success against Colorado continue?

It's been a tough year for the Blackhawks captain, who has only seven goals and 21 points in 37 games, including three points in his last seven. Earlier this season he went 13 consecutive games without a goal, and snapped that on Dec. 23 against Colorado in a 2-1 overtime loss. He recorded a season-high seven shots on goal in that game, and has scored a goal in each of his last four contests against the Avalanche. They seem to be his slumpbuster, so perhaps he'll come through again.

3. Marian Hossa's impact.

In the first meeting of the season, Hossa scored two goals in a 4-0 win over Colorado. In the second, the Blackhawks were without him after he was sidelined with an upper-body injury, and fell 2-1 in overtime. The Blackhawks are nearly at full strength this time around, with Marcus Kruger the lone injured player who's recovering from an apparent hand injury.

4. Nathan MacKinnon.

After a solid showing at the World Cup of Hockey last fall, MacKinnon was considered a strong candidate to have a breakout season with a new head coach that preaches an up-tempo style of play, right up MacKinnon's ally. But he hasn't reached that level yet, with 28 points in 41 games. Not bad, but not great by his standards as the No. 1 overall pick in 2013. He scored the overtime winner and added an assist in last month's victory against Chicago at the United Center.

5. Short shifts.

This will be the third meeting of the year between the two teams, but the first one in Colorado. Due to the high altitude in the Mile-High City, expect Joel Quenneville to distribute the minutes more evenly throughout their four lines and intstruct the Blackhawks to be short with their shifts, no longer than 40 seconds.

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Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

Patrick Kane was summing up the Blackhawks' weekend, one that didn't go well in terms of points.

"Good way to kind of judge ourselves, where we're at," he said Sunday night. "Might be a little bit of a wake-up call to see how good we really are."

Well, in a way, it is. You can't really compare Friday's loss to Washington and Sunday's loss to Minnesota on performance; the Blackhawks didn't show up for the first game and were much better in the second. Nevertheless, it was the same result in each. The Blackhawks' lengthy hold on first place in the Western Conference ended, with the Wild taking over following Sunday's 3-2 victory.

It's not a sound-the-alarm situation, but the Blackhawks are certainly cognizant of the missed opportunity last weekend and that they came up short against the league's best.

Artem Anisimov agreed with Kane's assessment.

"We just need to play better. All four lines need to play better in all areas of the ice. Just be better in the little things," Anisimov said. "Back check, put stick in the right position, box the guy out, short shifts. All little things need to be better."

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Many of the little things that were absent against the Capitals were back against the Wild. But coach Joel Quenneville wasn't happy with mistakes made on goals allowed, especially the first two. And while Kane and the second line were a consistent scoring threat against the Wild, the other three lines weren't. It's a problem that's plagued the Blackhawks a good deal this season, even when they were stringing together victories.

There is no reason to think that, because of this weekend's results, the Blackhawks are going to falter against strong teams. They've done well against others already this season. They beat Montreal earlier this season, when the Canadiens were healthy and steamrolling everyone. They beat the New York Rangers when the Rangers and former Blackhawks backup goaltender Antti Raanta were on their respective hot streaks.

Still, Kane's analysis is correct: This should get the Blackhawks' attention. The Wild have beaten the Blackhawks in eight consecutive regular-season games now and will face them three more times this season. They have two more meetings with the Edmonton Oilers, who beat them soundly in November.

The Blackhawks' long reign atop the Western Conference standings is over. They’re currently second in the Central Division, with an eight-point cushion over the St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks have done fairly well this season. But this weekend was a reminder that they can be better.

"The game (on Friday) was kind of like a shock to the system thinking maybe you're one of the top teams in the league, or being able to compete with one of the top teams, and we obviously got thoroughly outplayed. We came back (Sunday night). It was pretty even in chances. We might've even had more so, just kind of didn't pull it out," Kane said. "But (when) you've played two of the better teams in the league and lose, there's got to be room for improvement, right?"