VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks don’t want their history with the Chicago Blackhawks to dictate their future in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Canucks and the defending champion Blackhawks will meet in the NHL playoffs for the third consecutive year.
Chicago eliminated Vancouver from the second round of the playoffs the last two seasons. Last year’s embarrassing performance forced the Canucks to make some personnel changes.
“What’s happened in the past is really in the past,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said Monday, after his team practised at Rogers Arena.
“You have two different teams with some of the same core players, but it’s a different year, a different playoff.”
Centre Ryan Kesler was careful to hide any emotion he had about playing the Blackhawks again.
“We had to play someone,” said a crusty Kesler. “We have to play four teams to win the Stanley Cup.
“Who ever it was, we have to go through them.”
The Western Conference quarter-finals begin Wednesday in Vancouver (CBC, 10 p.m. ET). Game 2 will be Friday at Rogers Arena, before the series shifts to Chicago for matches Sunday and Tuesday.
The Canucks were careful not to give Chicago any bulletin board material. Players assured any reporter asking questions that they respected the Blackhawks.
“They are the Stanley Cup champions,” captain Henrik Sedin said as a reminder. “They have a good team.”
But the Canucks and Blackhawks find themselves in very different circumstances this year.
Vancouver has enjoyed the best regular season in franchise history.
The Canucks won their first Presidents’ Trophy by finishing first overall in the league with a 54-19-9 record for 117 points. They topped the league with 262 goals scored, allowed the least with 185 and have the top-ranked power play.
The Blackhawks barely scrapped into the playoffs, finishing eighth in the West with a 44-29-9 record for 97 points.
Chicago lost their final game of the season against the Detroit Red Wings but backed into the post-season when Minnesota beat Dallas Sunday night.
Salary cap concerns mean some of the Blackhawks players Vancouver fans hated the most won’t be playing this year.
Big forward Dustin Byfuglien isn’t around to crash through goaltender Roberto Luongo’s crease like a bull in a china shop. Also gone are goaltender Antti Niemi plus Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and John Madden.
While the Blackhawks were subtracting, the Canucks were adding. Vancouver improved its defence by adding Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard.
“Their personnel has changed,” said Henrik Sedin. “Our defence is a lot deeper.
“We brought in some top players from other organizations.”
Luongo said Chicago remains dangerous with players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith in the lineup.
“Both teams are different,” said Luongo. “They are the champions.
“By no means do we think it’s going to be easy. It’s going to be a tough series and we are going to have to work for it.”
Luongo grinned when asked about not having to deal with Byfuglien.
“They have other guys that will step up,” he said.
Vancouver had a 2-1-1 record against Chicago this season. The defeat was a humiliating 7-1 thumping at home in November.
That loss prompted a players’ meeting and a different attitude on the team.
“Sometimes you need a game where you really get outplayed and outscored to realize you haven’t been playing as well as maybe as the standings showed,” said Henrik Sedin.
“That was the game for us. We got together as a group and started really to jell as a group.”
In the past, the Hawks have been successful in getting under Vancouver’s skin. Chicago pounded Vancouver physically and taunted them verbally.
Kesler doubts that approach will work this year.
“We are a very disciplined team and we’ve proven it all year,” he said. “Our power play and penalty kill have been tops in the league.
“We are going to try and use that to our advantage.”
Luongo said Vancouver’s maturity is the best weapon against the Blackhawks.
“You learn from your past experiences,” he said. “We grew as a team.
“We didn’t have a lot of ups and downs. When we did, we tried to remain as even-keeled as possible. We had a tremendous amount of focus all year long and just want to carry that into the playoffs.”