You know the deal by now. The Vancouver Canucks are your Northwest Division champions for the fifth straight season, wrapping up the division crown with an impressive 3-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night at Rogers Arena.
The Canucks were able to give rookie defenseman Frank Corrado a look with the season winding down. In one of those welcome to the NHL moments, Corrado delivered a punishing hit in the early minutes, taking out the ref while he was at it. Welcome to Vancouver, kid.
Chris Higgins came within inches of giving the Canucks an early lead, but Corey Crawford made a miraculous save to stop the puck. At the end of a power play, Mason Raymond had another good chance on net of a ricochet, but couldn’t execute. Crawford was catching plenty of lucky breaks early on.
Then, with Vancouver on the power play, it was finally time for the Canucks to catch a break. Jason Garrison delivered a blistering shot on net that, thanks to a deflection of Jannik Hansen’s skate, slipped past Crawford to give Vancouver the 1-0 lead at 14:28 in the opening period.
The Canucks held the Blackhawks to just five shots and two scoring chances in the first period in a solid defensive effort during the first twenty minutes.
Zack Kassian would add to the lead in the second period. Kassian positioned himself in front of the net and patiently waited for a pass from Daniel Sedin, tipping the pass in past Crawford to give Vancouver a 2-0 lead. Daniel’s assist pushed him past Markus Naslund for second on the Canucks all-time scoring list, right behind his brother, Henrik.
With some extra space on the ice with the teams playing 4-on-4 for the last 1:18 in the second period, Henrik Sedin delivered a perfect bank pass to his other half, who beat Crawford on the to give the Canucks a 3-0 lead with 43.8 seconds to go. Sedin magic at its finest.
The Blackhawks finally beat Schneider in the third period, but not without a little help from the referee behind the net first. Tom Sestito tried to clear the puck along the boards, but it deflected off the skate of a referee right to Daniel Carcillo who snuck it past Schneider to make it 3-1 at 11:50 in the final period.
Schneider shook off the odd goal and went back to taking care of business, not allowing any further goals. Schneider would finish the night with 24 saves.
Crawford was taken off the ice for the final 2:37, but the only bright side the Blackhawks could take away from the 6-on-5 advantage was not allowing an empty net goal as the Canucks were able to wrap up the game and the division. The loss was Chicago's first in regulation since a 2-1 loss to the Ducks on March 29, and just their sixth regulation loss all season.
This game was exactly what Vancouver needed with the playoffs looming on the horizon. It was a solid 60 minutes of hockey against the conference’s top dog. In a game where Vancouver needed just one point to clinch the division, they played with an intensity that was refreshing to see in a game that was essentially a playoff dress rehearsal.