CHICAGO — If you constructed a list of ‘Five ways to beat the Chicago Blackhawks,’ you’d either be writing for a website or coaching a National Hockey League team.
Either way, bench boss and blogger would agree on item No. 1: Do not take penalties and put Chicago on the power play.
The Vancouver Canucks talked about this Thursday, then took five penalties in a sequence that gave the lethal Blackhawk power play (16-for-37 over the previous 12 games) a pair of two-man advantages.
Considering Chicago scored twice when dared to do so, it was impressive in a way that Vancouver still managed a point in a 4-3 overtime loss, settled when Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews beat Canucks shutdown defenceman Chris Tanev one-on-one to score at 3:21 of three-on-three.
But giving the Blackhawks two points allowed Chicago to creep within two of Vancouver in the Western Conference playoff race. It also left an unsatisfying feeling around the Canucks, who finished their four-game road trip at 1-2-1 despite being the better team for long stretches in all four games.
Those two or three points left on the table could seem even more valuable in April if the wild-card playoff race out west continues to be a mass sprint — uh, jog — to the finish line.
“The way we played, we could be sitting here with six or seven points on the trip,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to play well. And if you play well, good things will happen. And I really believe that. You can’t just chase the game, you can’t chase points. You’ve got to play your best hockey, and when you do good things happen.”
But good things didn’t happen on this trip as Vancouver lost top defenceman Alex Edler to a concussion Monday in Philadelphia and have lost three straight games since he went face-first into the ice.
The Canucks are tied with the St. Louis Blues for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference but have played three more games. The Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers are two points behind with games in-hand on Vancouver.
The Canucks have difficult home games Saturday and Monday against the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks before embarking on another three-games-in-four-nights trip through California.
They outshot the Blackhawks 43-35 and significantly outchanced them at even-strength, but needed rookie Elias Pettersson to get Vancouver to overtime by overpowering goalie Collin Delia with a one-timer at 18:08 of the third period, when the Canucks were skating six against four.
Delia, however, stopped Pettersson on an overtime breakaway before Toews, able to take his time and measure Tanev in the man-to-man defence teams play in OT, made an explosive move around the Canuck and beat Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom with a high shot.
“I was waiting for him to do it,” Tanev lamented. “I knew he was going to wait for me to lunge and try and stick it under me, and he just beat me.”
For a while, it looked like the Canucks would beat themselves.
Brandon Sutter, as smart and disciplined as anyone on the Canucks, took a ridiculous slashing penalty on Erik Gustafsson when Vancouver was already shorthanded, giving the Blackhawks a five-on-three power play starting at 17:26 of the first period.
As Sutter sat in the penalty box, Alex DeBrincat converted Dylan Strome’s back-door feed at 17:59, and Brandon Saad flipped a loose puck past Markstrom at 18:58 to lead 2-0 in a period in which the Hawks had been largely dominated at even strength.
“I just lost control for a sec there,” Sutter said. “That guy was coming at me trying to pick me, and I just got a little frustrated. I can’t do that. It’s not a great feeling sitting in the box when they get two on you early in the game like that. The boys battled back for me. That’s not something I do very often and I don’t want to make a habit of it, that’s for sure.”
Green had warned his team about taking penalties.
“It’s easy to say,” he said “Guys aren’t trying to take penalties. I know that. It’s part of the game. We did a lot of good things tonight. That first period, I think we gave up two chances five-on-five and three in the second period. To get down 2-0 on the road and to come back, claw your way back, and get a point is big.”
Alex Biega, brought into the lineup for Edler, blistered a high point shot past Delia to make it 2-1 at 2:20 of the second period and Josh Leivo tied it with a sharp-angle snap from left wing at 4:41.
But after the Canucks somehow put themselves down two men again — and escaped the 90-second five-on-three because Markstrom was their best penalty-killer — the Blackhawks retook the lead anyway at 14:01 when DeBrincat scored another back-door goal after four Vancouver skaters watched the puck bounce past them.
“I thought we played some pretty solid games and to not get the points we needed, especially in a playoff push, it stings a little a bit,” Canucks defenceman Ben Hutton said after logging 31:18 of ice time. “We clawed back and grabbed one tonight, which is nice.
“(But) we were playing with danger there a little bit. We knew their power play was good. Patty Kane, he controls it, he can hit seams out of nowhere there. So we were flirting with danger there, which we can’t do. Going down the stretch here, we know we have to be disciplined and win the special-teams battle.”
The Canucks’ power play finished 1-for-5, and is just 3-for-33 the last 12 games.
“It was very similar to our whole road trip,” Sutter said of the game. “We played a lot of pretty good hockey and it sucks to come out of it with only three points. There’s a lot of things to like. We just need more points.”