Three times in his NHL career with the Vancouver Canucks Linden has seen his team battle back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff.
He also was part of the 2003 Canuck team that squandered a 3-1 series advantage against the Minnesota Wild and lost the conference semifinal after leading 2-0 in Game 7.
That’s why Linden and some of the other Canuck veterans spoke to the team in the dressing room prior to Wednesday’s practice.
The Canucks lead this year’s Western Conference quarter-final 3-1 and can eliminate the Dallas Stars with a win Thursday night (7 p.m. ET).
The message Linden sent was don’t be complacent. No one has won anything yet.
“You just want to make sure guys understand there is a lot of hockey left,” said Linden, 37, who scored the winning goal in Vancouver’s 2-1 victory over Dallas Tuesday night.
“There is a lot of game left and we have to be at our best here to close it out.”
Defenceman Willie Mitchell also knows something about comebacks. He was a member of the 2003 Wild team that the Canucks couldn’t finish off.
“It’s four (wins), it’s not three,” said Mitchell, who made a game saving play in Dallas by sweeping a puck out of the Canuck net before it crossed the goal line. “The last one is going to be the toughest.”
The Canucks rode a rollercoaster of emotion during the 2003 playoffs. They fell behind the St. Louis Blues 3-1, then regrouped to win the series.
Vancouver then took a 3-1 lead in the series against the Stars. At one point former Canuck forward Todd Bertuzzi told some Wild fans not to bother buying tickets for Game 6 because there wouldn’t be one.
He was wrong, but the Canuck collapse taught the team a lesson.
“You need to have that killer instinct,” said captain Markus Naslund. “We’re up now, we’re playing at home and we have a good chance of finishing this series off.”
“We have to have a strong game tomorrow.”
The biggest difference between this year’s Canucks and past teams is in goal. Netminder Roberto Luongo has been near unbeatable in his first playoff appearance and seems to get stronger every night.
“I feel comfortable right now,” said Luongo, who has a 1.49 goals-against average and leads the playoffs with a .950 save percentage going into Wednesday’s games.
“I feel I’m in a groove right now and just want to keep it going.”
The Stars practised in Dallas then flew to Vancouver. Dallas’s Mike Ribeiro was a member of the 2004 Montreal Canadiens that battled back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Boston.
“We played a simplified game and took it one period at a time,” Ribeiro said. “Once you win Game 5, the pressure goes to them to close the series.”
“You’re just playing and they’ve got the pressure to finish it out. The thing is, you don’t want to think about winning three games, you just worry about the next one.”
Even though the Canucks are in the driver’s seat they have swerved dangerously close to the ditch. Vancouver just as easily could be trailing 3-1.
Three of the games have been decided by one goal. Two have gone into overtime. The first match needed almost four extra periods for the Canucks to win.
Vancouver has been outplayed for long stretches. The power play is ranked last in the playoffs, having managed just one goal in 22 chances. The Canucks have also taken themselves off the power play nine times in the series by taking a penalty of their own.
The Stars are looking for some answers of their own. Dallas couldn’t take advantage of five-on-three power play for 1:55 in Tuesday’s lost.
The Stars Mike Modano has yet to score in the series and didn’t have a shot on goal in 24 minutes of ice time in the last loss.
Dallas is also feeling the heat after losing six consecutive home playoff games and being eliminated from the first round the last two seasons.
Mitchell said the Stars aren’t going to go down without a fight.
“People react differently when they are backed into a corner,” he said. “This is where we’re going to see their best.”
“Sometimes you will play well and the bounces will go the other way. Next thing you know the series is tied. There is no margin for error. The last one is always the toughest.”
Coach Alain Vigneault said Dallas won’t wave the white flag.
“It’s going to be another hard fought game,” he said. “Two teams are going to be desperate again.”
“They are going to want to prolong their season and we’re going to want to not go back to Dallas.”
Linden played for the Canucks when they trailed Winnipeg 3-1 in the 1992 Smythe Division semifinal before winning the series.
Vancouver trailed Calgary 3-1 in the first round of the 1994 playoffs, but won the final three games, all in overtime.
Linden doesn’t want to give the Stars another life.
“We know it’s going to take a great game and take some bounces,” he said. “We want to put our best game forward.
“Having said that, we know Friday is a travel day and Game 6 is Saturday.”