The Hawks have the difficult task of trying to solve Roberto Luongo, who plays at a level higher than nearly every other goalie in the league during the regular season, but enters a new stratosphere once the Vancouver Canucks captain reaches the playoffs.
It took them until the third period, but the Hawks finally got to Luongo with a spirited three-goal rally to tie the score before Sami Salo's goal with 1 minute 13 seconds remaining propelled the Canucks to a 5-3 victory Thursday night. The Canucks drew first blood in the best-of-seven series which resumes Saturday night with Game 2 at General Motors Place.
Salo's goal came when the defenseman trailed the play and banged in a rebound of a Steve Bernier shot after Hawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin made a terrific save following a two-on-one break for Mason Raymond and Bernier.
The effort spoiled a scintillating comeback after Patrick Kane had two goals and Dave Bolland another in the third period against Luongo.
"It's tough to lose like that, especially with a minute left," said Kane, who opened the third with a power-play goal to cut the Hawks' deficit to 3-1 and added his second 9:10 later to cut it to one goal.
"At the same time we put together a good third period so we can build on that. We have to use that to go into the next game."
Kane solved Luongo just 1:01 into the third when Martin Havlat's attempt from in close squirted to Kane, who then beat Luongo to the stick side for his third goal of the playoffs.
The Hawks made it even more interesting when Kane notched his second goal of the game at 10:11 while on the power play. With Vancouver's Darcy Hordichuk in the box for roughing Bolland, Luongo kicked a rebound of a Brent Seabrook shot right to Kane who rifled it in from the right circle to make it 3-2
Bolland then scored with 5:29 remaining in the third to tie it 3-3. The center tucked in a rebound of a Duncan Keith shot from in close. Luongo and the Canucks tightened defensively before and after Salo's score to stave off the Hawks.
Ryan Johnson added an empty-net goal with 16 seconds left for the Canucks' final margin.
"It was a great game coming back," said Hawks rookie Kris Versteeg, who had an assist on Kane's second score. "It was a tough way to lose.
"We always knew what we could do against this team. It was just an unfortunate way to end.
"It shows that we have a lot of character in this room by coming back. We just have to play all 60 minutes."
Luongo entered Thursday with a 9-7 record, 1.63 goals-against average and .946 save percentage in 16 career postseason games and was at his net-minding best when he back-stopped the Canucks to a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues in the quarterfinals.
"This is what I play for, I love to play in the playoffs," said Luongo, who yielded just five goals to the Blues.
"The adrenaline is obviously higher and it makes you kind of sharper."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun