-- The Chicago Blackhawks talked a lot about getting off to a better start against the Vancouver Canucks in Game 3 of their Western Conference Semifinal series. On Wednesday night, they did just that.
After falling behind 2-0 in the first two games of this series, the Blackhawks opened their own 2-0 lead in the first period of Game 3 and never looked back, earning a 5-2 victory at GM Place to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-7 series. Game 4 will be at GM Place on Friday night.
Dustin Byfuglien had his first three goals of the playoffs for the Hawks, and Antti Niemi made 31 saves -- 16 in the first period.
Kris Versteeg and Byfuglien scored in the first period. Byfuglien's second goal of the game -- and second of the playoffs -- midway through the second proved to be the winner. Alex Burrows cut the lead to 3-2 with a goal late in the second period, but the Canucks got no closer.
Marian Hossa and Byfuglien finished things off with third-period goals.
Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo
had perhaps his worst game of the playoffs, giving up the first four goals off rebounds and stopping just 30 shots.
Versteeg was the beneficiary of some good work by Hossa and Andrew Ladd on the Blackhawks' first goal. Hossa and Ladd were whacking away at a loose puck near the crease before it eventually squirted free behind Luongo. Versteeg darted to the puck and swept it home at 5:19 to make it 1-0.
Byfuglien, playing forward after being used as a defenseman in Game 2, used his 6-foot-4, 257-pound frame to make it 2-0 with 3:13 left in the opening period.
It took just six seconds for the Blackhawks to score after Ryan Kesler
went off for tripping. Jonathan Toews won a faceoff back to defenseman Duncan Keith, who hammered a shot on Luongo. The rebound bounced out to Byfuglien, who backhanded it into the net.
Niemi shut down numerous great chances for the Canucks in the early going, but his two best saves came against Daniel Sedin
with about nine minutes left in the first period. Sedin found himself all alone in front with his back to Niemi and got off a backhand shot that the goaltender stopped. Sedin picked up the rebound and tried to lift it, but Niemi sprawled, dropped his goal stick, and made the save with his blocker.
Niemi stopped all 16 shots he saw in the first 20 minutes, a far cry from his first-period performances in the first two games of the series in which he allowed a total of four goals in the first periods.
Hansen's second-period goal cut the lead in half and was a combination of getting to the front of the net and a little bit of luck.
The Canucks were moving the puck well, and it eventually wound up on the stick of defenseman Alexander Edler
at the blue line. Edler's long shot was stopped by Niemi, but the rebound bounced off Hansen's hip and into the net to make it 2-1 at 9:07.
Byfuglien's second power-play goal of the game was a testament to his size and strength in front of the net, and came as a result of Burrows seeking out Brian Campbell after a whistle and roughing him up enough to draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Less than a minute later, Toews took a pass at the right side of the net from Kane and swung the puck off Luongo, who stacked the pads to make the save. But no one could move Byfuglien, who roofed the loose puck to make it 3-1.
After the goal, Byfuglien curled into the corner and extended his arms toward the GM Place fans, who were less than receptive about the celebration.
With 54 seconds left in the second period, though, Burrows redeemed himself by beating Niemi with a 20-foot wrist shot from the slot off a 4-on-2 rush. It was Burrows' second of the playoffs but just his first non-empty-net goal since March 30.
Luongo made his best save early in the third period on Campbell, who found himself all alone in front of the net with nary a Canuck within reach. Campbell remained patient, moving from right to left and stretching out Luongo. But a sprawled-out Luongo found a way to deflect Campbell's shot by extending his goal stick.
However, Hossa's third goal of the postseason with 12:15 left in the third period -- off yet another Luongo rebound -- salted away the victory. Luongo kicked out Patrick Sharp's shot from near the right circle. But Hossa, who beat defenseman Shane O'Brien
out of the corner, got to the front of the net and slid the rebound past Luongo.
Byfuglien completed his first career hat trick with 6:02 to play on a goal that was originally credited to Kane.
Kane flipped the puck on Luongo, and the rebound kicked out into a crowd that included Byfuglien, who knocked Luongo into the net. The goal was allowed and credited to Kane after a video review, but was changed to Byfuglien after the game.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DLozoNHL