VANCOUVER – A team can sign talent and draft skill, but composure is something that must be learned.
The Vancouver Canucks made themselves better this year by improving their defence and adding depth on their third line. But patience and confidence is the biggest reason Vancouver overcame a 2-1 deficit to defeat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 in the opening game of the Western Conference final.
In past years the Canucks might have panicked. The team could have turned into a bunch of individuals trying to do too much.
Not this group.
“We don’t really overreact or lose our composure at any point of the game,” forward Alex Burrows said after the Canucks practised at Rogers Arena on Monday.
“We just stick with it. I think we got better as the year went on, sticking with the process and sticking with the 60-minute plan. If it has to take 55 or 59 minutes to get it done, we are willing to wait instead of forcing things. It has to do with maturity and more experience.”
The Canucks will get a chance to extend their lead when Game 2 is played Wednesday (CBC, 9 p.m. ET). The best-of-seven series will return to San Jose for games Friday and Sunday afternoon.
The Canucks know the Sharks desperately want to avoid going down 2-0 in the series.
“There is no doubt there is going to be a real good push back,” said speedy forward Mason Raymond. “We won Game 1. We are happy about how we finished that one.
“They are going to come real hard. They have a great team. If we do the things that make us successful, then we are more concerned about the game we put on the ice.”
Sharks forward Logan Couture said San Jose will be a much better team than the one that gave up two third-period goals in 79 seconds Sunday night.
“There’s four teams left and we didn’t play like one of the best four teams last night,” said Couture, who is a finalist as the league’s top rookie.
“It was definitely us that lost that game. They really didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to win it.”
San Jose coach Todd McLellan said his team must show more energy.
“We were slow,” said McLellan. “We didn’t get to the battles that we needed to get to. When we get there, quite frankly, we were out-battled. It’s as simple as that.
“That will have to change.”
Vancouver had the best record in the league this year, winning the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time in franchise history with 117 points.
Their resolve was tested in the first round of the playoffs. Vancouver took a 3-0 lead against the Chicago Blackhawks, but then needed a goal in overtime of Game 7 to finally finish off the defending Stanley Cup champions.
For the last several years the Canucks have iced teams brimming with potential that have failed to deliver in the playoffs. Vancouver has won its division five times in seven years, but this is the first time since 1994 the Canucks have managed to advance past the second round of the playoffs.
“As you get more experience, you obviously learn form your success,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “But you probably learn as much, if not more, from your failures.
“When you do learn, you work on improving certain facets. It makes you better individually, it makes you better collectively. I think that’s what we’ve tried to do over the years.”
The Canucks always had talent. The biggest question was mental toughness.
In Sunday’s game, goaltender Roberto Luongo made a bad clearing pass that resulted in San Jose taking an early lead. That goal might have shattered past teams.
Instead, the Canuck calmly regrouped.
“It comes from confidence,” said forward Tanner Glass. “If you know you have the ability to score, you are going to be more confident, more clam.
“If we are down one, or you see a flukey goal go in from behind the goal line, those are bumps in the road. We try to leave it at that. Those things are going to happen. We just try to focus on our process.”
All season the Canucks said they were focused on one goal. For them, the 82-game schedule was like an exhibition season leading to the playoffs.
“We treated every game in the regular season as a playoff game,” said Daniel Sedin, who won this year’s scoring title with 41 goals and 104 points.
“That’s how you get ready for playoffs. We were up a lot of games during the regular season, so we got a lot of practice at that. We were also down so we were able to come back. It’s been a long season and we’ve been able to work on a few things.”
Along with the Canuck poise has come improved discipline. Players like Ryan Kesler and Burrows have stopped their trash talking and concentrated on playing the game.
“I think we’ve been disciplined all year long,” said Vigneault.
“We’ve really worked on that facet of our game. We’re just trying to play whistle to whistle, play hard and smart. Hopefully it will continue.”
As agonizing as those past Canuck failures were, they made Vancouver a better team.
“You learn from experience,” said defenceman Christian Ehrhoff. “We don’t get too high or too low.
“You learn what it takes. This group has matured over the last couple of years.”