VANCOUVER — After using scoring and speed to become the best team in the NHL this season the Vancouver Canucks turned to crash and bash to win the opening game of their playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Canucks plan to keeping laying on the muscle when they face the Blackhawks Friday in the second game of the best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final (CBC, 10 p.m. ET). Chicago workhorses like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith can expect to find themselves in the Vancouver cross-hairs.
“We’re going to try to hit those guys any chance we get,” rugged forward Tanner Glass said Thursday after the Canucks practised at Rogers’ Arena.
“Those guys are playing a ton of minutes. Any time you get to bump them, it’s going to wear them down. That goes a long ways in a long series.”
Vancouver outhit the defending Stanley Cup champions 47-21 in winning Wednesday’s first game 2-0.
Bruising centre Maxim Lapierre, acquired at the trade deadline, led the assault with eight solid checks. Defenceman Alex Edler, playing just his second game since returning to the lineup following back surgery, dealt out seven.
“In the playoffs you want to be physical,” said Lapierre, who had three goals and an assist in the Montreal Canadiens playoff run last year.
“It is a long series and you want to be physical on every guy out there.”
The Canucks, who won the Presidents’ Trophy for the best record in the NHL, cruised into the playoffs playing a string of meaningless games. The Hawks had to battle down the stretch and needed a loss by Dallas on the final day of the season to back into the final playoff spot in the West.
Coach Alain Vigneault plans to keep exploiting the travel-weary, battle-fatigued Hawks.
“It’s just part of the process, part of the things we have to do,” said Vigneault.
“Chicago came in here. They had played five games in eight nights. Five stressful and intense games. We felt it was important for us to come out with a good start.”
Defenceman Brian Campbell said the Canucks strategy isn’t a surprise and Chicago just needs to react better in Game 2.
“I don’t think we did a great job with our physical play,” said Campbell. “We know they are going to keep it up. We just have to be better ourselves in taking the man.”
History isn’t on the Canucks side as they try to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
Vancouver has never beaten Chicago in Game 2 of the four playoff series they have played against the Blackhawks. The Canucks have lost those games by a combined score of 16-6.
Vancouver has won the opening game of a Chicago series three times, including the last two seasons when the Blackhawks went on to eliminate the Canucks from the second round of the playoffs.
Forward Alex Burrows bristled when reminded of past series lost. He said the Canucks are a more mature team this year with better defence, while the Blackhawks have lost many of the muckers and grinders that gave Vancouver fits last year.
“I don’t know why people don’t understand that,” said Burrows. “It’s different players, a different year, a different lot of things.
“For us, we just approach it like we are a much different team. We didn’t finish first overall for no reason. We play our game like we can, to our strengths.”
Defenceman Brent Seabrook said the Blackhawks have to control their own fate.
“We have to refocus and get ready,” he said. “We have to come out with a good effort.
“We have to play our game and come out and take it too them.”
The Canucks won the opening game, but they didn’t overpower the Hawks. Goaltender Roberto Luongo made 32 saves for the shutout, including a game-changing, first-period toe save off a shot by Campbell.
Daniel Sedin, the NHL’s scoring leader, and twin brother Henrik were both kept off the scoresheet. Ryan Kesler, a 41-goal scorer during the regular season, had one assist but blocked a shot that set up another Canuck goal.
“I don’t think we played our best game,” said Henrik Sedin, the Canucks’ captain. “We are going to put our best game on the ice tomorrow.”
Getting a split in Vancouver would give the Blackhawks a huge lift as they return home for Sunday’s Game 3. Being down 2-0 could be the beginning of the end.
“We know what’s at stake,” said Chicago defenceman Chris Campoli. “It’s a huge game.
“We have to come out and match that intensity, if not take it too them.”
For the Canucks, winning Game 2 would put them in the driver’s seat. A loss could open the door to doubts and second guessing.
“We are going to try and play with the intensity and the same focus we had,” said Vigneault.
“We know they are going to be better. We are going to have to have our execution and our work boots on. And we are going to have to be better. There’s a lot of hard work right now and we are going to have to be ready for it.”