Blackhawks win 5-1 over Vancouver to advance to the third round; will face San Jose

On the anniversary of the Hawks eliminating the Canucks out of the second round, the Blackhawks came to Vancouver and did the same thing again, on the road.

The opening period was a goalie clinic, with both teams working hard and fast on the ice, shots on goal flying, and both teams coming out with 0-0 at the end of the first. Antti Niemi of the Blackhawks and Roberto Luongo of the Canucks came out with nearly even SOGs - 13 and 12, respectively.

The edge on defense went to the Hawks, who were able to scoop out a save when Niemi was out of position after a sliding save. At 8:37 through the first, Troy Brouwer took the first penalty of the night - high sticking; but the Canucks couldn't score on the power play.

Brouwer redeemed himself just two minutes into the second, breaking through and scoring the first goal of the game to made the Hawks 1-0. Kris Versteeg followed with a goal only 36 seconds later, and from there, the Hawks never looked back. Dave Bolland popped in the third goal late in the second to make it 3-0.

With under eight minutes left on the clock in the second, a hard drive to the net by Versteeg saw Christian Ehrhoff of the Canucks knocking his own goalie into their own net, with Luongo's head bouncing off the post. Luongo lay in the net, but he was soon back on his feet, shaking it off. The Hawks got their second and last penalty of the game late in the second, when miscommunication between Niemi, releasing a puck after a save, and defenseman Duncan Keith led to Keith being whistled for slashing.

The Canucks were finally able to reply at the 3:44 mark in the third period; but after Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien put in back-to-back goals just 25 seconds apart, it was clear who was going to win this game. Mikael Samuelsson was the only Canuck to get a penalty, but he took at trifecta hit of hooking, cross checking and misconduct (10 min.).

After the first period looked like the Blackhawks and the Canucks would battle this game to the very end, it turned out that the first period was the most evenly matched, and then the Chicago team cranked it up a notch as the Canuck's collective team injuries and weaker defense lines began to show.

The Chicago Blackhawks won 5-1 in regulation; they've only gone into overtime once in these playoffs - the memorable game 5 at the United Center, where Patrick Kane's last-second goal sent the game into OT, and Marian Hossa's OT goal provided one of the most memorable moments of the 2010 playoffs thus far.

They came to Vancouver prepared to continue on to San Jose, where the Sharks have been waiting to find out who they will face for the third-round game to determine who goes on to the final round.

The Blackhawks seem to have no illusions about the team they are heading to face. Although the Hawks have beaten the Sharks 3-1 this season, they haven't faced each other since the end of January. Most of the games have been determined by a single goal (the exception being a single blowout the Hawks won), and two of the four games went into OT.

San Jose's team also heated up just in time for the playoffs, eliminating first the Colorado Avalanche in 6, and then Detroit in 5. They have looked sharp and hungry, anxious and ready to make up for for getting washed out of last year's series. And, like the Blackhawks, their team sports several Olympians and plenty of size and talent.

The Sharks vs Blackhawks games may well shape up to be the most exciting games we've seen so far: two very closely matched teams who ended up 1st and 2nd in the Western conference.