The Vancouver Canucks continued their season opening six-game road trip as they took on the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on Thursday night. Having lost their previous two games, the Canucks were looking for a bounce-back performance to get back on track.
Looking for a spark, Travis Green put Kyle Burroughs back into the lineup, replacing Brad Hunt. Also returning to the lineup after a lower-body injury kept him sidelined on Tuesday was Quinn Hughes, who replaced Luke Schenn. Green also scratched rookie Vasily Podkolzin, replacing him with Alex Chiasson.
To start off the game, the Blackhawks came out skating hard, creating a couple of early chances that were all turned aside by Thatcher Demko.
Once the Canucks settled down and started playing their game, Jason Dickinson opened up the scoring. Dickinson blasted a one-timer off the post and in, setup by a beautiful back-handed pass from Matthew Highmore. Nils Höglander started the sequence by dishing out a great pass to Highmore, creating the tic-tac-toe scoring play.
Only 1:50 after Dickinson’s go-ahead goal, Alex DeBrincat tied the game back up on the power play. Patrick Kane sent a beautiful cross-ice pass over to DeBrincat, who one-timed a shot bar down past Demko, who was caught deep in his crease.
With 3:46 left to go in the opening frame, Riley Stillman threw a hip check on Nils Höglander, sending him to the ice. Alex Burroughs immediately went right after Stillman and dropped the gloves. Burroughs threw just about every punch in the tussle, which eventually ended with both players wrestling each other down to the ice.
At the end of the first, with the scored tied 1-1, Chicago led 12 to 9 in the shot department. Demko had a fantastic opening period, saving 11 of the 12 shots he faced.
Coming out of the dressing room, Jason Dickinson was sent to the box for boarding Alex DeBrincat. In a huge moment of the game, the Canucks penalty kill came up huge. Not only did they kill off the penalty, but they also created two high-quality short-handed scoring chances.
As the second period approached the halfway mark, Tanner Pearson broke the tie, giving the Canucks a 2-1 lead. Quinn Hughes sent a wrist shot sizzling towards the net from just in front of the blue line, that was beautifully tipped in front by Pearson.
After the Canucks regained the lead, the Blackhawks pushed back hard, trying to tie the game back up. With numerous chances and constant pressure, Demko came up massive and made some phenomenal saves to preserve Vancouver’s lead.
The Blackhawks pushback ended when Dylan Strome was called for hooking Jack Rathbone, sending the Canucks onto the power play. Only 12 seconds after Strome’s penalty, Connor Murphy was sent to the penalty box for slashing Alex Chiasson, giving the Canucks a lengthy 5-on-3 power play.
Vancouver wasted no time on the two-man advantage, as Brock Boeser roofed his own rebound past a sprawled out Kevin Lankinen. J.T. Miller started the sequence with a cross-ice pass over to Elias Pettersson, who one-timed a dazzling pass right back across the ice to Boeser, who was all alone in front of the net. Lankinen made a great save on Boeser’s initial attempt, but had no chance on the second shot.
The Canucks would take a 3-1 lead into the second intermission, despite being outshot 21 to 17. Thatcher Demko made some great saves to help keep the Blackhawks offense from finding the back of the net in the middle frame.
During the third period, both teams had some great opportunities, but neither could capitalize.
The first big chance of the period for the Canucks came after Dominik Kubalik was sent off for tripping Quinn Hughes. Hughes ripped a slap shot flying past Lankinen, hitting the post and staying out of the net.
After Chicago killed the Canucks power play, the Blackhawks created a couple of high-quality chances for themselves. Seconds after Kubalik stepped back onto the ice, he found himself on a 2-on-0 break with Patrick Kane skating alongside to his left. Kubalik tried to send a pass over to Kane for a one-timer, that was blocked by a diving Tyler Myers, who raced himself back into the play.
Shortly after Myers’ terrific defensive play, the Blackhawks were right back knocking on the door. After a Canucks turnover, Dylan Strome sent a cross-ice pass over to Jonathan Toews, who one-timed a shot on net, that was saved by Demko.
With just over three minutes left in the game, Conor Garland was sent to the box for tripping Seth Jones, giving Chicago some life. With the game on the line, the Canucks penalty kill came up huge again.
Just as Conor Garland stepped out of the penalty box, Tucker Poolman chipped the puck up the ice, giving Garland the easiest goal of his career as he skated up on the breakaway and slid the puck into the empty net.
Thatcher Demko ended his phenomenal game fending off 29 of the 30 shots that he faced, including some unbelievable saves.
After consecutive losses in underwhelming performances, this was a statement win for Vancouver.
The Canucks will be back in action on Saturday night when they wrap up their road trip by traveling to Seattle to take on the Kraken in their franchise’s first ever home game.