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Niemi benched as Canucks drop Hawks

Antti Niemi was benched after giving up three goals on 12 shots in the first period against the Canucks. Jeff Vinnick/NHLI/Getty Images

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Apparently, the Vancouver Canucks didn’t get the script.

Playing without three regular defensemen, it was the Canucks, not the Chicago Blackhawks, who put on an offensive show en route to a 5-1 victory.

If there is a team in the West that can skate with the Hawks, it might be Vancouver, whose first period blitz had them leading 3-0 after the opening 20 minutes.

“We had two power plays to start the game and they killed both of them and built some momentum off of that,” John Madden said after the game. “When you play a team like Vancouver, they are a transition team that likes to drive the net. They put pucks on net and those three goals were rebound goals.”

The contrast in styles between the Calgary Flames, who the Hawks beat a couple nights earlier, was evident from the drop of the puck. The Flames are slow and brooding, while the Canucks mimic the Hawks’ speed and style.

Before Antti Niemi could even think about a possible third straight start on Tuesday, he was sent to the bench having given up three goals on twelve shots. That’s un-Niemi-like, but it wasn’t all his fault. By the end of the opening period, five defensemen and a total of 13 players had a minus next to their name, and Cam Barker had a two.

“I wasn’t blaming the goaltending at all tonight,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Down 3-0, I tried to change the momentum. There was a lot of hockey left. It didn’t work . . . Our thought process mentally, some of the mistakes, we haven’t seen some of those all year.”

The three rebound goals in the first period perplexed the Hawks coach.

“That’s one thing our [defensemen] are good at -- clearing that loose stuff,” Quenneville said. “We didn’t do that.”

The Canucks’ top line of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, along with Alexandre Burrows had themselves another great night. Before the game, Brent Seabrook used the words “damage control” in regards to trying to stop that line. There was no controlling their damage on this night. They combined for three goals and eight points.

“They’re the real deal,” Madden said.

The offense didn’t exactly repeat Game 6 of last season’s playoff series against the Canucks, though they had 44 shots. Quenneville wasn’t pleased with the lack of traffic, and when Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo sees a puck, he usually stops it. Though the total shots are misleading, every Hawk except for Tomas Kopecky was credited with at least one. Duncan Keith had a team-high eight.

The one chance the Hawks had was snuffed out pretty quick. After finally getting on the board with a Jonathan Toews tally early in the third period, 32 seconds later Henrik Sedin answered and that was the game.

“That’s why they won the game,” Toews said. “Every time we got something going, they found a way to frustrate us and come right back at us with something. That’s the story of the game right there.”

“It’s tough to explain,” Toews continued. “We didn’t have the intensity [to start]. We didn’t play with the jump we normally do.”

That could be said about two of the Hawks’ last three games. Now, its time to regroup with two days between games and the last place Edmonton Oilers up next.

“We had some momentum coming off last game,” Quenneville said. [We’re] disappointed with today’s game, for sure. Let’s get back going.”

NOTES:

After the game, Toews mentioned the poor job that he and the team did on faceoffs. Toews, a 58.5 percent winner for the season, won only 43 percent against the Canucks. The Hawks as a team won 47 percent for the game.

Only three Hawks (Toews, Sharp, Hjalmarsson) had a point in the game, which means Madden’s line with Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien have failed to earn a point on the road trip. Joel Quenenville changed up the lines as the game progressed.

Andrew Ladd had a short fight with Ryan Kesler after the Hawks got down 3-0. It was Ladd’s first of the season and fourth career bout.

The Hawks will have the day off in Vancouver on Sunday before practicing Monday and then flying to Edmonton for Tuesday night’s game. They’re 3-2 so far with three games left on the trip.