CHICAGO – Five months after he sat sobbing following one of his biggest personal failures, Roberto Luongo wore a winning, ear-to-ear smile.
His Vancouver Canucks hadn’t won on the road since beating Chicago in Game 3 of the teams’ second-round playoff series last May. The Blackhawks advanced by taking the final three games, with Luongo allowing seven goals in the decisive Game 6.
Luongo was much better Wednesday night, making several acrobatic stops among his 18 saves as Vancouver won 3-2. He helped the Canucks kill a 5-on-3 power play early in the third period and kept them in the game long enough for Michael Grabner to tie it with 7:44 to play and Mikael Samuelsson to put in the winner 3:02 later.
“Obviously, nothing’s going to bring back what happened last year. They still won the series; we just won a game. But it’s nice to be able to come in here and show we can win and just start moving on,” Luongo said.
“I was real excited to come back here and play even though there aren’t such great memories of last year. I knew the team wasn’t going to have a problem getting up for this one.”
Indeed, with a 31-20 advantage, Vancouver was the first team to outshoot the high-powered Blackhawks this season.
“It was really nice to finally win a game on the road and win against a team that sent us home a lot earlier than we wanted last year,” Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell said. “Everyone feels good right now.”
Several Canucks said Mitchell’s big hit on Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, coming right after Vancouver had killed Chicago’s two-man advantage, was the turning point. Mitchell emerged from the penalty box and levelled the unsuspecting Toews, who didn’t play the last 14 minutes.
“It was a clean hit,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “He didn’t see (Mitchell) coming.”
The team only said Toews sustained an “upper body” injury, with Quenneville adding: “We’ll see how he is (Thursday).”
Antti Niemi, starting in place of struggling Chicago goalie Cristobal Huet, was sensational most of the night and finished with 28 saves but couldn’t survive some sloppy play in front of him late.
“Niemi played great tonight and kept us in the game,” Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith said. “We shouldn’t be allowing that many shots.”
Grabner made it 2-2 with a power-play goal from the top of the left circle, his first career goal in his fourth NHL game.
After the Blackhawks killed off another power play, Samuelsson intercepted Brian Campbell’s pass toward Patrick Kane in the Chicago zone. Samuelsson skated into the left circle and snapped a wrist shot that beat Niemi low to the far side.
Samuelsson, who also assisted on Steve Bernier’s first-period goal, has 20 points in 25 career games against the Blackhawks.
“They made a turnover, and I took a whack at it and I got lucky,” Samuelsson said. “When you play on this ice, late in the periods, you’ve got to stay with the puck because you don’t know when it’s bouncing. You never know when you’re going to get chances like that.”
Keith scored for Chicago midway through the first period. Late in the second, his perfect pass set up Troy Brouwer’s goal for a 2-1 Blackhawks lead.
It was the second consecutive loss for Chicago, which had won its four previous games.
NOTES: Don Lever, a scout with the Blackhawks since August, left the team to be head coach of the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. … Blackhawks C Andrew Ebbett, claimed on waivers from Anaheim last week, made his Chicago debut.