VANCOUVER – A short summer that seemed to last forever is finally over for the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks open their NHL season against the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night. It’s the first step in what the Canucks hope is another long journey to the Stanley Cup final.
“It feels good,” said captain Henrik Sedin. “You can only practice so long.”
Goaltender Roberto Luongo said losing last year’s final in seven games to the Boston Bruins taught the Canucks some valuable lessons.
“We have gained a lot of experience,” said Luongo. “We went through a lot the last season.
“We can use that as far as experience goes to grow as a team and grow individually.”
Getting over the frustration and disappointment of losing the Cup hasn’t been easy. Sedin said it’s a scar that might never totally heal.
“I don’t think it’s gone but you have to focus on this year,” he said. “If it’s in the back of your head a little bit, that’s a good thing.
“Other than that, you have to move forward.”
Vancouver faces a Pittsburgh team that will start the season without former league MVP Sidney Crosby, who hasn’t played since Jan. 5 due to concussion problems.
Crosby is travelling with the Penguins and practised with his teammates Wednesday. He has not been cleared for contact in practice and doesn’t know when he will play again.
“I felt good,” he said. “I have been feeling good the last few weeks.
“I am happy with the way things have gone.”
The Penguins will still ice a squad that features Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and goaltender Marc-Andre Fluery.
“Nobody underestimates them, even missing Crosby,” said Cody Hodgson, the former first-round draft pick who will start the season centring Vancouver’s second line.
“They have a lot of high-end talent. We have to be at our best to beat them.”
Malkin said the game will be a great early test for the Penguins.
“Vancouver is a great team, a tough team,” said Malkin, who missed a large hunk of last season with a knee injury.
“They have tough defencemen and a great goalie. We have a good team too. Tomorrow I think will be a good game.”
The Canucks hope to take a page from the Penguins’ history.
Pittsburgh lost to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2008 Stanley Cup final. The Penguins battled back to the final in 2009, beating the Red Wings for the Cup.
The last team before Pittsburgh to lose in a final, then return to win the next year, was the Edmonton Oilers. They lost to the New York Islanders in 1983 before beating the Islanders in 1984 for Edmonton’s first Stanley Cup.
Staal understands the motivation that will be driving the Canucks this season.
“Mentally I’m sure they are ready to go again,” he said. “They will be hungry again this year.”
The Canucks advanced to the Stanley Cup final for the third time in team history last season and the first time in 17 years.
Losing in Game 7 to Boston was a bitter end to the best season in franchise history.
Vancouver won the Presidents’ Trophy for the best record in the NHL for the first time in time history. The Canucks set franchise records with 54 wins, 117 points and 27 road victories.
Vancouver scored more goals than any team and allowed the least. The Canucks had the NHL’s best power play and third-best penalty kill.
Individually, Daniel Sedin won the NHL scoring title with 104 points from 41 goals and 63 points, all career highs. He also was awarded the Ted Lindsay Award as the players’ MVP.
General manager Mike Gillis was named executive of the year while Ryan Kesler was awarded the Selke Trophy.
Luongo was nominated for the Vezina Trophy. He combined with backup goaltender Cory Schneider to win the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the least goals.
Kesler, who underwent hip surgery over the summer, had his first full practice with the Canucks Wednesday. He has been cleared for contact in practice but wasn’t making any predictions about when he could play.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Kesler, who scored a career-high 41 goals last year.
“I have no idea (when I can return). It’s when ever my hip is strong enough, ready enough. I can’t put a timetable on it. When ever I feel good, I will play.”
Vancouver hopes to have added some toughness to the lineup by claiming forward Dale Weise off waivers from the New York Rangers.
The six-foot-two, 210-pound Winnipeg native won’t bring a lot of finesse to the Canucks, but will add a physical presence to a team that was pushed around in last year’s final.
“I’m an honest guy,” said Weise. “I finish my checks, stand up for my teammates.
“I’m a hard-working guy that does what ever it takes for his team.”
Alain Vigneault knows one of the challenges facing his team is to concentrate on the present and not look too far into the future.
“The experience we went through last year has made us better,” said Vigneault.
“We know the goals are the same. What we’ve done has helped us, but it’s in the past. We have to take care of the moment right now. We have turned the page on last year. We are focused on now.”