Canucks get 12 points from one line, rout Blackhawks
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — On many nights this season, it was difficult to identify the Vancouver Canucks’ best line.
That was not the case Thursday.
The trio of Thomas Vanek, Sam Gagner and rookie Brock Boeser accounted for all of the goals in Vancouver’s 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Vanek led the way with two goals and three assists. Gagner also scored two goals and provided a helper, while Boeser notched a goal and three assists.
“We played well as a team overall, and our line ... we created a lot of chances,” Vanek said. “All three of us, I thought the last three games we played well — we were getting close. Tonight was just one of those games where all three of us clicked most of the time.”
The Canucks (16-17-5) ended a four-game losing streak while posting only their second victory in the past 10 games. The Blackhawks (17-14-5) took their third consecutive loss.
“Pucks (were) going through us down low like Swiss cheese on three of (Vancouver’s goals),” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was too easy.”
Gagner extended his point streak to four games after producing points in only five of the previous 15 contests.
“It’s nice to be on the scoresheet and contributing in a win,” Gagner said. “(It was) a good feeling for our group.”
Gagner added that it was good to find some chemistry with Vanek and Boeser.
“Hopefully we can build off of that one,” Gagner said.
Boeser, known as a shooter, displayed some playmaking skills as he took over the NHL rookie points lead (38) from the New York Islanders’ Mathew Barzal, who has 36.
“I think after last game I said I want to make some more plays like (Vanek),” Boeser said. “I was focused on that a little, and it seemed to work out.”
Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman, with only 8.6 seconds left in the game, scored for the Blackhawks.
Jacob Markstrom picked up the win in goal, stopping 30 shots. Canucks coach Travis Green showed confidence in Markstrom by starting him after the Swede allowed two bad goals in a 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 23.
Anton Forsberg, Chicago’s de facto starter with Corey Crawford out because of an undisclosed injury, stopped 26 shots.
“That was a tough game,” Forsberg said. “I thought we had it under control until they got the third goal. I gotta play way better than that and inspire with more big saves to get the offense going. Whether we are scoring or not scoring, my job is to stop the puck and five goals is way too much.”
Gagner opened the scoring at 7:03 of the first period as he deflected in Nikolay Goldobin’s wrist shot from near the blue line. The goal came three seconds after Chicago’s Gustav Forsling came out of the penalty box.
Schmaltz beat Markstrom on the short side as he one-timed Patrick Kane’s pass during a power play, creating a 1-1 tie at 11:22 of the first. The goal came 20 seconds after Canucks captain Henrik Sedin was sent off for hooking.
However, to Quenneville’s chagrin, the Canucks foiled the Blackhawks on three power plays in the second.
“We scored a nice power-play goal and then we lost momentum in the game with our ineffectiveness in the second period on a string of power plays,” Quenneville said. “It slowed us down.”
On the other hand, the three successful penalty kills perked up the Canucks.
“When they get the (power-play) goal relatively early in the game, our penalty kill is under the gun a little bit, and to kill off three in the second period was big,” Green said.
Vanek put the Canucks ahead 2-1 at the 13-minute mark of the second as he one-timed Gagner’s no-look backhand pass from behind the net.
Only 1:27 into the third period, Vanek returned the favor as he set up Gagner for his second goal. Gagner fired in a slap shot after Vanek sent a cross-ice pass from the corner into the opposite faceoff circle.
Vanek produced his second goal of the game on a similar play with Boeser furnishing the pass at 16:29. Vanek subsequently set up the rookie on a cheeky back pass while rushing to the net at 18:35.
Hartman closed out the scoring on a high shot that fooled Markstrom, who was rarely tested but still impressed his coach.
“I loved the way Marky faced the puck tonight,” Green said. “He looked confident, but overall our team game was one of the stronger games we’ve had in a long time.”
NOTES: Canucks C Sam Gagner had an eight-point night against the Blackhawks in 2012 while playing for the Edmonton Oilers. ... Chicago lost C Artem Anisimov to an upper-body midway through the first period. Coach Joel Quenneville said he “could miss some time.” ... Canucks D Chris Tanev (groin) skated with the club but did not play. ... Blackhawks C David Kampf played his first NHL game after being called up from Rockford of the American Hockey League. Another call-up, G Jeff Glass, 32, dressed as the backup. Glass, a former junior star, has yet to play an NHL game. ... Canucks Fs Jake Virtanen, Brendan Gaunce and Nic Dowd are now one game shy of 100 for their NHL careers. ... Chicago D Cody Franson (upper body) took part in the morning skate but remained out of the lineup.