VANCOUVER – When Chris Higgins arrived in Vancouver from the Florida Panthers at the NHL trade deadline, he was told he’d have to earn his ice time.
On Wednesday night he made a big down payment.
Higgins scored Vancouver’s first goal of the playoffs, and it turned out to be the winner in the Canucks’2-0 first-game victory over the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Both Ryan Kesler and Higgins stuck their sticks in front of a Kevin Bieksa point shot and the tip beat Blackhawk netminder Corey Crawford.
“I know I hit it, so whatever,” Higgins said of the goal originally credited to Kesler. “I don’t really care to be honest.”
What he does care about is the opportunity to play with a winner.
“You don’t get a chance like this too often and you want to make the most of it,” said Higgins, who is usually the last Canuck off the ice following the pre-game warm-up.
“It’s the best team in the league. I knew that from playing against them that they’re an extremely talented team and I was excited to be part of this group and know that I was wanted by this group.”
Higgins was acquired for his depth and versatility, and Canuck coach Alain Vigneault coached him in Montreal which selected him 14th overall in the 2002 entry draft.
His first appearance in a Canuck uniform—his 400th career game—was delayed by a broken thumb. He played in a number of line combinations before settling on the left wing with Kesler and right-wing Mikael Samuelsson.
“I didn’t know where I was going to fit in,” said the six-foot, 205-pound native of Smithtown, N.Y. “When I talked to them they said I would have to earn my ice time.
“And I had no trouble doing that just because the level of depth and talent on this team is so great.”
Higgins, 27, who was also on the ice for Jannik Hansen’s insurance goal, said role players can take the pressure off Canuck stars like twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
“It’s always like that in the playoffs,” said Higgins who moved up to the second line when Mason Raymond was rotated to centre the third because of Manny Malhotra’s season-ending eye injury.
“It’s guys like Jannick who really don’t get as much press as the twins but come up with some big plays in the playoffs.”
Higgins was also doing the little things. In the third period, Kesler lost a defensive zone draw but his linemate anticpated where the puck was going and moved it to safety.
“He was skating well off the puck and he was creating some turnovers,” Vigneault said.
“Him and Ryan and Mikael got the opportunity to play a couple of games at the end of the year and you could see that there was some chemistry there.”
Higgins’goal was his sixth in 23 career playoff games after picking up two goals and five points in 14 regular-season games for the Canucks.
“He’s jumped right in and fit the mould,” Hansen said.
“I think it’s an easy group to come into. There are a lot of good guys on this team and they take good care of everybody new, old, trade … it doesn’t matter.”
NOTES: Maxim Lapierre, who also arrived in Vancouver at the trade deadline, led both clubs with eight hits … The Canucks out-hit the Hawks 47-21 … Vigneault coached Lapierre in junior hockey.