VANCOUVER — Their playoff status has improved slightly to serious from critical, but the Vancouver Canucks’ Stanley Cup hopes are still at death’s door.
The Canucks avoided elimination by showing poise and confidence in beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 Sunday night. Vancouver still trails 3-2 in the NHL Western Conference semifinal and must win today’s Game 6 at GM Place (CBC, 5:30 p.m.) to push the best-of-seven series to the limit.
“It’s going to get tougher and tougher every game, we know that,” centre Henrik Sedin said after stepping off a flight from Chicago on Monday afternoon. “They are the favourites. They finished ahead of us in the standings.
“We have to go out there and play our game like we did the last game and try and be relaxed.”
Game 7 would be Thursday in Chicago.
Many people, even hard-core fans, were ready to pull a white sheet over the Canucks after two disastrous losses at GM Place left Vancouver down 3-1 in the series.
“Will is a big part of it,” said defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who scored twice and added an assist in Sunday’s win. “We’re a desperate team right now because if we lose, we go home.”
Chicago will be looking to quickly squash any momentum Vancouver has gained. The Blackhawks packed so they could travel directly to San Jose where they would face the Sharks in the West final. First though, they must pull the plug on the Canucks.
“You want to close it out in as few games as possible,” said forward Andrew Ladd. “I’m sure they’ll have a little better feeling going back home (with) a chance to come back for Game 7.
“We’ve got to rebound and come out with a lot better effort.”
Coach Joel Quenneville said the Hawks might have been thinking too far ahead and forgotten the task at hand.
“We had everything going our way,” said Quenneville. “Maybe we thought that we were just going to continue on that path. But nothing is easy.
“I think this could wake us up here to know we’ve got to be at our best in order to be successful.”
The Canucks left Vancouver on Saturday looking like beaten kittens but returned home with a lion’s strut.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo shook off some criticism from his own coach and was nearly unbeatable in stopping 29 shots. The Canucks refused to be intimidated by Chicago and didn’t retaliate to cheap shots, even when Daniel Sedin took a vicious slash to his ankle.
Vancouver killed four penalties and scored once on the power play. The Canucks stopped Chicago from making stretch passes out of their own end and prevented the Blackhawks from creating a traffic jam in front of Luongo.
Mission accomplished. Now they have to do it again. Then again.
“We all have to step it up as a team,” said Luongo. “If we want to move on we have to play the best hockey we have played all year as a team.
“It’s not on one guy to make a difference. It’s on everybody to make sure they give a little extra.”
Henrik Sedin expects to face a different team than the flat-footed, uninspired squad Vancouver beat Sunday.
“They are going to play better, we know that,” said Henrik Sedin. “I think we can still play better too.”
Coach Alain Vigneault refused to reveal any more details of the injury to defenceman Sami Salo.
The often-injured Finn was taken to hospital in Chicago after being hit in the groin area by a Duncan Keith shot at the end of the second period. Vigneault refused to comment on speculation Salo suffered a ruptured testicle.
“All I am going to say now is (he’s) day-to-day,” said Vigneault.
If Salo can’t play Lawrence Nycholat is expected to dress.
Luongo said other players would have to fill the gap left by Salo.
“In pressure situations, guys step up and everybody gives a little more,” said the Canuck captain. “Sami is a big part of our core and it’s tough to see him go down like that.
“But guys step up and that’s what it’s all about in the playoffs.”
Defenceman Shane O’Brien will play after needing stitches to close a gapping cut on his forehead after hit by a Dustin Byfuglien high stick. No penalty was called on the play.
Vancouver’s game still has some red flags.
Three of the four goals Sunday came from defencemen. Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Mikael Samuelsson have just one goal each during the series. Ryan Kesler, Steve Bernier and Pavol Demitra have not scored at all.
So far this year four of the Canucks’ six playoff victories have come on the road. Losing again at home this series isn’t an option.
“We’ve got to go out there and execute,” said Luongo. “That’s the only solution.”
The Canucks have come back from 3-1 deficits three times to win series. They did it in 2003 against St. Louis, 1994 against Calgary, and 1992 against Winnipeg. On the other hand, Vancouver has a 3-6 record in Game 6s dating back to 1994.
Vigneault said his players will be more focused on the future and not worried about the past.
“When you care too much and you want to do too well, sometimes you can channel your energy not in the right way,” he said. “Right now our guys channelled their energy and gave themselves a chance to play another game.”