VANCOUVER -- Roberto Luongo looks ready for the playoffs. His teammates are following his lead.
Luongo was staked to an early lead Wednesday and Vancouver's goalie put in the work to preserve it as the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks took Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Chicago Blackhawks, 2-0, at Rogers Arena. The Canucks lead the series with Game 2 set for Friday back here before the series moves to Chicago for Game 3 on Sunday.
It's the third straight year Vancouver won Game 1 against the Blackhawks, but history suggests it doesn't mean much. Chicago went on to win the first two series' in six games.
However, this is clearly a different Blackhawks' team without some of the core depth guys like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg that helped them win the Stanley Cup last season. It's also a different Canucks' team, one that defenseman Kevin Bieksa said is mentally tougher and is led by a goalie playing the best hockey of his career.
Luongo showed it Wednesday with 32 saves, including some of the dazzling variety and 25 over the final two periods. It was his second career playoff shutout and it lifted his career playoff record above .500 to 18-17. His first career playoff shutout came in a 3-0 win over St. Louis on April 17, 2009.
Hawks goalie Corey Crawford, who was making his playoff debut, had to be excellent just to keep the deficit manageable. He came up with 31 saves and actually gave up nothing to the Sedin twins, but he was beaten by a deflection and a breakaway.
Vancouver was ahead 2-0 before the Blackhawks could even settle down. The Canucks got their deflection goal from Christopher Higgins and their breakaway goal from Jannik Hansen within the first 10:23 to keep the fans inside Rogers Arena fired up. They were worked into a tizzy during a sterling pregame show complete with music that made the press box shake.
The Canucks were the more physical team in the first period and it showed in the stat sheet as they were credited with 20 hits to Chicago's nine. Sami Salo knocked Tomas Kopecky out of the game with a big hit along the corner boards with roughly two minutes left in the period. Kopecky was diagnosed with an upper body injury and did not return.
The Blackhawks brought a bit more snarl in the second period, but they still couldn't solve Luongo, who had 22 saves through 40 minutes.
Luongo's best save of the night came late in the first period when he managed to cut across his crease and stick out his right toe to stop Brian Campbell's one-timer from the left side with 1:34 to play. The save preserved the 2-0 lead for Vancouver going into the first intermission and brought the first of several "Luuuuuuu" chants from the sellout crowd.
Ryan Kesler led the charge in staking the Canucks' a 2-0 lead. He had the secondary assist on their first goal and blocked a shot that indirectly led to their second.
To grab a 1-0 lead, Higgins first received a picture perfect stretch pass from Mikael Samuelsson and went into the zone in stride before sending the puck around the boards. Kesler knifed through the middle and dug out the puck, getting it up to Kevin Bieksa at the right point.
Kesler and Higgins went into the high slot and Higgins was able to get his stick on Bieksa's slap shot, redirecting the puck over Crawford's catching glove. Kesler was initially given credit for the goal, but between periods it was changed to Higgins as replays showed he was the one who got his stick on Bieksa's shot.
Vancouver made it 2-0 three minutes and 20 seconds later on Hansen's breakaway goal, but had Kesler not blocked Duncan Keith's shot from the blue line it never would have happened. He did, the puck came back to Keith but Samuelsson forced a turnover and the puck sprung free into the neutral zone, gliding slowly toward the far blue line.
Crawford hesitated and then chose to stay in his crease while Hansen blew by Marian Hossa and collected the puck for the breakaway. He made a move and beat Crawford to make it 2-0.
Chicago had its chances in the second period but couldn't connect. Early in the period Troy Brouwer tried to hit Hossa on a headman pass that would have led to a breakaway, but the pass went too far ahead of Hossa.
Jonathan Toews hit the post during what was a dominant shift by his line with about seven minutes left and Luongo made a big save on Patrick Sharp with 3:41 left, stopping Sharp's shot after he tried to bat the puck out of the air from the low slot.
Crawford came up with a picture perfect save on Cody Hodgson, who tried a redirect from the slot off the rush with nine minutes left.
Crawford also got lucky when Samuelsson hit his second post of the game on a breakaway with 13:10 remaining in the second period, but he made an assertive move midway through the third period to poke the puck away from Bieksa to take away a potential breakaway from the defenseman who was coming out of the penalty box.