Hawks outsmart, outscore Canucks now lead series 3-1

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Given the amount of trash talk that went down before Game 4 between Chicago and Vancouver, you had the feeling that this game was going to be something more out of the Federal League in “Slap Shot” rather than the NHL. What it turned out to be was a shining example of being played for a pack of fools.

The Canucks were goaded into snapping back at the Blackhawks after they’ve made life very uncomfortable in the crease for Roberto Luongo and had some big targets to go after in the form of Dustin Byfuglien and rather than fight back with them on the ice, the Blackhawks took the lumps and helped themselves to four power play goals on the evening on the way to a 7-4 psychological dismantling of the Canucks to take a 3-1 series lead.

Two games in a row now the Blackhawks have gotten the Canucks to go out of their way to chase after them for what they view to be objectionable conduct on the ice, ahem, and the Hawks have been more than happy to let the Canucks run around like escaped asylum inmates. The score of the game explains itself. Vancouver added a goal in the third period to give the fans something a little extra to cheer about, but goals from Tomas Kopecky and an empty net goal from Dave Bolland salted the game away something fierce.

For the Canucks there are a lot of questions to ask now as they’ll head to Chicago for Game 5. Can they play smarter and with better discipline? Can their defense do something more than take brutal penalties? Can Roberto Luongo steal them a win for once in their playoff lives against Chicago?  What looked to be a promising playoff year for Vancouver is going up in flames.

Meanwhile the Chicago Blackhawks have turned their game up into another gear mostly due to captain Jonathan Toews. Toews finished the night with a hat trick and five points in all. I know we’re a little spoiled after Johan Franzen’s performance against San Jose, but Toews has carried the play of the Blackhawks this postseason and now leads the league in playoff scoring with 18 points. Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp have all been stellar in the playoffs for Chicago and if they stay on this kind of pace, they’ll be very difficult to contend with.

Game 5 of the series will be Sunday night in Chicago.

PHT Morning Skate: Beat writers survey predicts Ducks will win Cup

Corey Perry, Frederik Andersen
AP Photo
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

In a survey of 29 beat writers, the Anaheim Ducks emerged as the clear favorite to win the Stanley Cup. If you’ll recall, they have that in common with the EA Sports simulation. (Boston Globe)

Alex Ovechkin would pick an Olympic hit against Jaromir Jagr as the biggest check of his life. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

Here are the highlights from Minnesota’s 5-4 victory over Colorado:

The Montreal Canadiens seem committed to using Alex Galchenyuk as a center throughout the 2015-16 campaign. (The Canadian Press)

The NHL recently enlisted its players to read off some not so mean tweets. (USA Today)

Bills coach Rex Ryan talked about the Sabres in Thursday’s press conference. (NHL.com)

Frederik Andersen may have the Anaheim Ducks’ starting job for now, but with John Gibson still a big part of their plans, Andersen has to keep proving himself. (Orange County Register)

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.