Canucks aim to solve streaking Blues

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

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

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.

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“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

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

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.”