VANCOUVER – Finding another gear didn’t prove to be a problem for the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks showed no sign of fatigue and played a patient game to beat the Nashville Predators 1-0 Thursday night to open their NHL Western Conference semifinal series.
After playing seven games of guns blazing, high-energy hockey in the first round of the playoffs, the Canucks took their time and waited for their chances against the stingy Predators. Vancouver controlled the play, made crisp passes and easily moved the puck around in the Nashville zone
The game lacked the energy and flow of the Canucks’ thrilling 2-1 overtime victory against Chicago in Tuesday’s Game 7 of the conference quarter-finals series.
The switch was like going to the opera after watching a rock concert.
“We can’t get frustrated,” said Canuck captain Henrik Sedin. “It’s going to be low scoring games, we know that.
“We were extremely happy to win this game 1-0. We are prepared to do that. That’s the sign of a good team.”
While the Canucks were satisfied, Nashville coach Barry Trotz fumed.
“Tonight we had too many passengers, not enough guys pulling on the rope,” said Trotz.
“Let’s be honest. We didn’t deserve to win this hockey game.”
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series will be played Saturday at Rogers Arena (CBC, 9 p.m. ET).
Chris Higgins scored the game’s only goal on a strange play in the second period while goaltender Roberto Luongo stopped 20 shots for his second shutout of the playoffs.
Vancouver was playing on just one day’s rest after beating Chicago, but showed no signs of being tired mentally or physically. The Canucks had speed and peppered Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne with 30 shots.
“We came out with a lot of jump,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “We were assertive on the puck, we were assertive getting pucks to their net.
“We just met a goaltender that was real sharp tonight.”
There were fears the Canucks might not have much left in the tank after the Chicago series.
Luongo said the playoffs are a marathon and the Canucks know they have barely started the race.
“When we came into this season we didn’t come in to beat the Hawks,” said Luongo, who also had a shutout in the opening game against Chicago.
”We wanted to take a run at the Cup. We think we have the team to do it. It was very nice to win the other night but it was only round one. We have bigger and better things we want to accomplish.”
Defenceman Kevin Bieksa said the Canucks can’t be in a hurry to beat Nashville. The Predators use a stifling defence and relentless forecheck to wear teams down and force mistakes.
“They are a really patient team,” said Bieksa. “To beat them, you have to be just as patient.
“We didn’t force things. That’s when you get in trouble with these guys. They don’t give you a whole lot. Eventually you get frustrated and start forcing things.”
Higgins scored at 12:14 of the second period. About the last person in the arena to realize he had scored was the referee behind the net.
Higgins stepped into a shot that a sprawling Rinne got a piece of. The puck deflected up, hit just under the bar in the net, then fell back out on the ice.
The red light game on, the horn sounded in the building, and the Canucks began to celebrate. But referee Marc Joanette waved the goal off. Play continued for several seconds before the whistle blew.
The referees huddled while television replays showed the puck clearly in the net. Finally the officials signalled a goal.
Higgins said he wasn’t sure if one goal would be enough in the tight game.
“You never want to think that,” he said. “You always want to get another one. It was just that kind of game., There wasn’t a lot of scoring chances. We managed to get it done tonight.”
Rinne was the biggest reason the game was even close. In the first period he got a blocker on Henrik Sedin drive. Later, he stopped a Keith Ballard shot, then denied the Canuck defenceman again on the rebound.
In the second, Rinne was able to glove Bieksa’s tip of a Sedin shot.
Rinne wasn’t happy with the way his team played.
“We played well in the third period (but) we can’t be happy the way we played the first 40 minutes,” he said. “That was unacceptable. I felt the third period gives us a little bit of confidence for the second game.”
Higgins praised the play of the big Finnish goalie.
“He played phenomenal,” said Higgins, who the Canucks obtained at the trade deadline from Florida. “He made a lot of hard saves look easy. I thought we did a good job of getting guys in front of him and he still made some good saves. He played a hell of a game.”
Both Luongo and Rinne are finalists for the Vezina Trophy, given to the league’s best goaltender.
Luongo wasn’t as busy but was there when needed. He got a left pad on a Sergei Kostitsyn shot and stopped Mike Fisher on a short-handed breakaway. That brought chants of “Luuu, Luuu” from the sellout crowd of 18,860 at Rogers Arena.
One fan in the crowd waved a cardboard cutout of country star Carrie Underwood wearing a Canuck jersey. Underwood, a former American Idol winner, is married to Fisher.
The Predators have been resting since eliminating the Anaheim Ducks in six games Sunday. It’s the first time in the team’s 13-year history that Nashville has advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
Notes: Mats Sundin, a former Canuck and long-time Toronto Maple Leaf, attended the game. …The Canucks and Predators have never met in the playoffs before. …Alex Burrows became the second player in franchise history to score two or more series-winning goals in overtime. He scored the winner against Chicago on Tuesday and against St. Louis on April 21, 2009.