To erase that deficit in Game 2 on Friday night, and come back to eliminate the Canucks for a third straight season, the Blackhawks agree they have to get to another place they know well: right in front of Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo(notes).
Luongo made 32 saves in a 2-0 victory in Game 1 on Wednesday night. And while Chicago took some solace in putting three pucks off posts behind him, they say they didn’t get enough bodies in front of him.
“That’s what playoff hockey is: Scoring ugly goals, scoring goals when you are in the crease, said defenseman Brent Seabrook(notes), one of four players made available after Chicago canceled a Thursday afternoon practice. “We’ve got to do a better job getting in Luongo’s face.”
It’s been an annual pledge from the Blackhawks, but this year may be different.
This a different Blackhawks team than the one that got in Luongo’s face the last two playoffs. Both times that charge into the Canucks’ crease was led by 265-pound Dustin Byfuglien(notes), one of 11 players shed from last year’s Stanley Cup-winning team.
Losing Tomas Kopecky(notes) to an undisclosed upper body injury in Game 1 won’t help. Kopecky was among the top candidates to pester Luongo, especially on a fourth-ranked power play that was 0 for 3 on Wednesday. But he is doubtful for Game 2.
“As a committee we all have some responsibility of taking it to the net or getting to the net,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We need at least somebody in front of him, whether it’s a point shot or plays around the net. We made it too easy for him last night.”
Luongo expects to see more Chicago jerseys up close as the series goes on.
“Same as last couple years against them: Guys coming to the net hard, creating traffic, screening,” he said. “I’m sure there will be a more conscientious effort from their side to bring more bodies to the net, but for me nothing changes, just try to fight through and find the puck.”
Luongo also has made some changes since last season, and may be harder to disrupt as a result. He is deeper in his crease under new goalies coach Roland Melanson, a subtle but significant tweak designed to shorten his movements in his crease, and the distance to recover to the rebounds Chicago converted so often while winning all three games in Vancouver last playoffs.
The byproduct is he doesn’t engage with opposing forwards outside of the crease nearly as often as he did last season, and most contact now occurs inside the blue ice.
“We try to get our box outs and have him see the puck but he has changed his style a little bit, playing a little bit deeper in the net so he’s not too worried about guys being on top of the crease,” Christian Ehrhoff(notes) said. “And if they are in the crease it’s up to the ref to make a call.”
Luongo also has more help. After losing too many battles in front of its net while again being eliminated by Chicago, Vancouver added top free-agent defenseman Dan Hamhuis(notes), and traded for Keith Ballard(notes) during the summer.
The revamped defense is more physical, and that’s the other area Chicago thinks it needs to improve to turn around the series. The Blackhawks were on the receiving end of 47 hits in Game 1, while dishing out just 21 of their own.
The Blackhawks rallied in their last two playoff series against Vancouver and they’re hoping for another comeback beginning on Friday night.
“When we get challenged I think we are better with some anger in our game,” Quenneville said.