CHICAGO — Defenceman Mattias Ohlund and the Vancouver Canucks might have finally figured out how to shut down the Chicago Blackhawks.
The challenge now is to keep Chicago’s late firepower bottled up as Vancouver looks to take command of the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series with a win Thursday.
Vancouver earned a 3-1 win Tuesday night to take a 2-1 overall lead. But the victory seemed to address the Canucks’ main problem in the series — giving up late goals.
“It was our best game so far in the series,” said Ohlund. “We played harder (defensively) on their top guys and made Lu’s (goalie Roberto Luongo) job a little bit easier.
“I’m sure they’re going to be better (Thursday) and it’s going to be a new challenge for us. But if we play like we did, I like our chances.”
With a victory, the Canucks will return home having a chance to cement the series Saturday night. But if the Blackhawks win, they will guarantee a return to the Windy City on Monday for the sixth game in the series.
But Vancouver isn’t planning to let up.
“We’ve got to make sure we come back with the same effort we had (Tuesday),” said Luongo, who stopped 23 shots. “Every game is so important in a series and any game can dictate the way a series is going to go.”
The Canucks practised Wednesday, with defenceman Sami Salo participating. He missed Tuesday’s game with a lower-body injury.
“He’s still day-to-day,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “We’ll see how he feels (Thursday).”
The Canucks have had no trouble scoring in this series, registering 11 goals and taking early leads in all three games. But in both contests in Vancouver, Chicago rallied from early deficits and registered the split by scoring five straight goals in a 6-3 victory Saturday night.
On Tuesday, Vancouver led 3-0 midway through the second but was able to limit Chicago to just one goal — that coming on a second-period power play by Brian Campbell.
Vancouver went ahead 1-0 in the first on left-winger Mason Raymond’s goal before right-winger Steve Bernier and centre Henrik Sedin both scored in the second.
“This time of the year, players are in high-concentration mode and want to succeed,” said Vigneault. “The way we played last night, to some extent, was the way we played most times this season.
“We’re a hard-working, high-percentage team and we’ve tried to have a better balance this year.”
Chicago right-winger Adam Burish says it’s important his team gets off to a fast start Thursday.
“Playing from behind like we have you’re having to force, you’re having to create and it’s tough to play against good teams like this,’ he said. “The biggest thing for us (Thursday) in that first period is try to get that first goal.
“Then guys will settle down, guys will relax and play the right way.”