VANCOUVER – Struggling Vancouver Canucks winger David Booth has no shortage of motivation to get his game back on track before the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Booth will participate in the post-season for the first time in his six-year NHL career. He never made it in five full campaigns with the Florida Panthers.
“It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” Booth said. “So I want to get a little confidence back and get rolling into the playoffs.”
He will get a chance Tuesday as the Western Conference-leading Canucks (41-21-9), who are tied for first overall in the NHL, host the Anaheim Ducks (33-35-11).
Booth, who was acquired in an October trade that sent Mikael Samuelsson to Florida, has only participated in one playoff series as a professional, with Rochester of the American Hockey League in 2006-07. The sought-after chance to compete for the Stanley Cup came after he battled back from a career-threatening concussion that limited him to 28 games in 2009-10.
He was also sidelined with a knee injury this season. But, lately, the 27-year-old Detroit native has been struggling with the mental challenge of trying to ramp up his performance at a time when he was winding down in previous seasons.
Booth has no points in his past eight games. On Saturday, he was benched during the third period against Calgary after getting caught up ice as the Flames took a 2-1 lead in the first minute of the final frame.
“It’s definitely a mental challenge to bring it every night,” he said. “It’s a mental challenge of how to get over (the slump) and change from one bounce that usually goes in and doesn’t, or one pass that usually comes on your stick and takes a bounce over.
“It’s just tough to come back. Your confidence starts to go a little bit. You start to question yourself. It gets frustrating when you don’t play in certain situations. Then you don’t think you’re as good a player as you once thought, because you’re not playing.”
The benching came after Booth was promoted to the first power-play unit a game earlier against Dallas.
Booth is not the only forward on the second line who has been struggling lately. Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond have also produced a dearth of offence.
Kesler has gone nine games without a point after scoring in three straight games. Raymond, under constant criticism for inconsistent play most of the season, has gone four games without a point while shifting between the first and second lines. Raymond’s dry spell has come following a stretch of three points in two games after he was a healthy scratch for the first time in his career.
“We’ve got to get better,” Booth said. “We’ve got to start producing. The second line, you’re supposed to produce.”
But coach Alain Vigneault indicated he is willing to be patient with the trio. Vigneault noted he has put different linemates with Kesler lately. The moves have resulted in part because of Daniel Sedin’s concussion, which has kept him out for six games and counting. The Canucks have won every game without him.
Vigneault said he said Kesler’s work ethic was beyond question, and instead attributed the line’s difficulties to the normal ups and downs of the season.
“We’re still trying to work with him, and his linemates, on getting the offensive contribution,” Vigneault said. “We’re getting the hard work and we’re getting defensive responsibility. It’s just a matter of time, I think, when elite athletes like that get their game to where they need it to be. So I’m not overly concerned.”
Despite the benching, he expressed confidence that Booth can rebound as the playoffs approach.
“In the last game, there were some moments that were good and some moments that were, maybe, a little more challenging,” Vigneault said. “But he’s a real good player for us, and we expect a good performance from him moving forward here.”
Booth has three games to turn things around before the playoffs. But he will have to try to maximize his performance against playoff also-rans—presuming Vigneault does not choose to rest him.
After meeting the Ducks, the Canucks play their final road game of the regular season Thursday in Calgary and then close out the campaign at home Saturday against Edmonton.
In the meantime, Booth is relishing the chance to chase the Cup for the first time.
“That’s going to be a great experience,” he said. “That’s something you don’t really know about until it happens. But I’ll be proud to be a part of this team and keep going.”