Canucks aim to solve streaking Blues - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

Canucks aim to solve streaking Blues

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St. Louis at Vancouver, Western Conference quarterfinal, Game One, 10 p.m. EDT

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- The Vancouver Canucks needed

a record-setting run to fight back from a January slump and

clinch the Northwest Division in their final game of the season.

So what was their reward for erasing a 13-point gap and passing

Calgary to claim the third playoff seed? A first-round series

against the St. Louis Blues, the only team with a better record

than Vancouver in the Western Conference over the second half of

the regular season.

While the Canucks are 23-7-2 since February, the Blues went

25-9-7 the final 41 games, going from dead last in the west on

Feb. 15 to the sixth seed with a 9-1-1 run to finish the season.

"Talk to guys who won the Stanley Cup and they'll tell you the

first round is the toughest," Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell

said. "That's why this is so special this time of year because

every team that got to the dance is good, and it becomes a

matter of the will to win, the desire to elevate your play to

the next level. If you don't you're probably going home in four

or five games."

The Canucks can take comfort that they're opening the

best-of-seven series Wednesday in Vancouver, where they are

13-1-1 since February, including a team-record 11 straight wins.

"It s a confidence thing too, going into the playoffs knowing we

battled to win a tough division," Mitchell added. "The dial is

reset come playoffs, but it gives you a little extra

confidence."

The Blues were saying similar things after ending their

franchise's three-season playoff drought, but cautioned against

putting too much emphasis on their late success.

"We don't want to start thinking we've been playing playoff

games," forward Andy McDonald said. "We've been playing games we

can't lose but I think the competition is going to get a lot

harder."

While Vancouver's impressive second half coincided with the

return of all-star goalie Roberto Luongo from a two-month

absence due to a groin pull, the Blues had to overcome a long

list of injuries -- 461 man games in total -- to key players.

Top defensemen Erik Johnson and Eric Brewer remain out.

"That's probably the best job a coaching staff has done this

year bringing that team into the playoffs with the injuries

they've had to key personnel," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault

said.

St. Louis forward Paul Kariya had surgery on both hips after

recording 15 points his first 11 games, but is now skating in

Vail, Colo., and could be cleared to return later this week.

"Paul is not here, he's not practicing with us, and until I see

him on the ice with our team, he's not part of the equation,"

Blues coach Andy Murray said, refusing to speculate on a

possible return.

In his absence, the Blues rely on a mix of veterans like

37-year-old captain Keith Tkachuk, and talented young forwards

like David Perron and David Backes, and rookies Patrik Berglund

and T.J. Oshie, who are all under the age of 26 and among the

Blues' top seven scorers.

"It's good for a lot of our young guys who don t have playoff

experience to come in and play that must-win type of hockey the

last three months," Tkachuk said. "Obviously it's another level

now. We have a lot of guys that haven t played in playoffs yet,

and that could be a scary good thing.

The Canucks aren't exceptionally rich in playoff experience

either.

Veteran Mats Sundin, who signed as a free agent in mid-December,

leads the team with 83 career playoff games, but hasn't been to

the postseason in five years.

"This is why I played this year to get a chance to in the

playoffs, there's not too many left," the 38-year-old Sundin

said. "Good teams in the playoffs find a way to do what made

them successful in the regular season, and do that when the

intensity and the importance of the games goes up."

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