VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The blood was still oozing out of five stitches above Kyle Wellwood’s left eye and a fat lower lip, and yet the Canucks forward couldn’t stop smiling.
Wellwood had two assists, drew five power plays, lost one tooth and chipped another, but his biggest play in Vancouver’s 5-3 series-opening victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night didn’t show up on the score sheet.
Wellwood, a center, made the pass that started a 4-on-1 rush, and defenseman Sami Salo finished it by banging in a rebound with 1:13 remaining, putting the Canucks back ahead after they blew a three-goal lead in the third period.
Ryan Johnson scored into an empty net with 15.5 seconds left to secure the Game 1 win.
“It’s definitely not fun to have these marks on your face, but in the playoffs it feels all right,” Wellwood said. “These aren’t something you worry about too much; they get you attention more than anything.”
After rallying with two goals by Patrick Kane and a tying marker from David Bolland with 5:29 left, the Blackhawks coughed up the puck on a 4-on-2 rush of their own.
Wellwood jumped on it and fed ahead to Mason Raymond, who sent a cross-ice pass to Steve Bernier for a one-timer that was stopped by a sliding goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, leaving Salo alone to hammer in the rebound. Wellwood was especially happy to see the puck go in after turning the puck over for Chicago’s 4-on-2.
“When I got it back I just threw it to Mase and me and Sami somehow were ahead of all their guys, too, so we just started heading toward the net and Sami put it in,” said Wellwood, who was hit near the eye by Andrew Ladd’s stick in the first period and in the mouth by Kane’s in the second.
Pavol Demitra scored on a power play, and Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler added even-strength goals for Vancouver, 16-1-1 at home since February. Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinal series is Saturday night in Vancouver.
After Chicago rallied twice from three-goal deficits in its six-game victory over Calgary, Kane got the Blackhawks’ rally started 1:01 into the third, pouncing on a loose puck in the slot and roofing a quick shot over goalie Roberto Luongo’s shoulder. Kane cut it one on a power-play rebound of Brent Seabrook’s point shot, and Bolland tied it on another rebound off a long Duncan Keith shot.
“We had a great third period to start off. One mistake and it ends up in the back of your net,” said Kane. “It’s not going to be as easy as Calgary. They’re a faster-paced team and we’ve got to keep up with them.”