Salo bails out Canucks

When the wake-up call came for the Vancouver Canucks, Sami Salo answered.

Vancouver Canuck Darcy Hordichuk is knocked off the puck by Chicago Blackhawk Ben Eager

Canucks 5 Blackhawks 3

VANCOUVER — When the wake-up call came for the Vancouver Canucks, Sami Salo answered.

The Vancouver defenceman scored off a rebound with 1:13 left in the third period to break a 3-3 tie as the Canucks defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 5-3 in the opening game of their NHL Western Conference semifinal.

It was a win that very nearly turned into an embarrassing defeat for Vancouver. The Canucks led 3-0 after 40 minutes, but the young Blackhawks mounted a furious comeback in the third period.

Dave Bolland tied the game at 14:31 after a pair of Patrick Kane goals, the second coming on a power play.

With the game seemingly heading to overtime, the Canucks broke out in a four-on-one rush. Speedy winger Mason Raymond sent a pass to big Steve Bernier, who streaked in on Nikolai Khabibulin.

The Chicago goaltender made a great stop on Bernier’s shot. The rebound went to Salo, who was trailing on the play. He drove the winning goal home to bring a deafening roar from the sellout crowd of 18,630 at GM Place.

“I had a lot of gas in the tank so I decided to join the rush,” said a grinning Salo. “It was a little risky but good things happen when you stop at the front of the net.”

Salo was one of the Canucks on the ice when Chicago tied the game.

“It was a wake-up call,” he said.

“We let them carry the game. If you let that team carry the game, they will take it over. It’s a good thing we found a way to win.”

Bernier said the Canucks learned an important lesson about not giving a team a second chance.

“That was not something we wanted,” he said. “The important thing is not to think about what happened. It’s think about what you are going to do next to help your team win.”

The night was an emotional roller-coaster for the Blackhawks that ended in a crash.

“It’s tough,” said Kane, who finished the game a minus-3 and also took a four-minute high-sticking penalty. “We had a great third period.

“One mistake and it ends up in the back of your net.”

Ryan Johnson, into an empty net, Pavol Demitra, on a power play, Ryan Kesler and Henrik Sedin scored the other Canucks goals.

While Salo was the game’s hero, forward Kyle Wellwood might have been the best Canuck player.

Wellwood, the free-agent signing who was criticized and demoted to the minors after arriving at training camp out of shape, had two assists. The former Toronto Maple Leaf also drew a pair of double minors for high sticking and a tripping penalty that led to Demitra’s first-period, power-play goal.

The pain of five stitches to close a cut an eye, and a chipped tooth, was easier to live with after the win.

“It’s definitely not fun to have these marks on your face, but in the playoffs it feels all right because you get on CBC and your family and friends get to see you more,” he laughed.

Coach Alain Vigneault called Wellwood’s new look an improvement.

“At least now he looks like a hockey player,” Vigneault joked. “I’m happy about that.”

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