VANCOUVER, B.C. – The rest and repair Vancouver enjoyed over the last week will probably be needed as the Canucks get ready to play the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the NHL playoffs.
There isn’t much love lost between the two clubs. The last game the teams played – a 4-0 Vancouver win in Chicago – featured a third-period brawl.
“This is another team we don’t really like,” defenceman Kevin Bieksa said after the Canucks practised at GM Place Tuesday. “They are a hard-working, physical team. It will be a battle.
“There will be a couple of scrums in this series. It will be entertaining for everyone.”
The NHL didn’t officially announce dates for the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal. Canuck players said Game 1 will be Thursday, with the second game expected Saturday.
The Detroit Red Wings play the Anaheim Ducks in the other Western Conference semifinal.
The Canucks also learned Tuesday that Ryan Kesler has been nominated for the Frank Selke Trophy, awarded to the top defensive forward.
“It’s exciting,” said Kesler, who was named a finalist along with Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings and Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers. “It’s very rewarding for myself.”
The Canucks haven’t played a game since a 3-2 overtime victory last Tuesday which gave them a sweep against the St. Louis Blues in the playoff’s opening round.
The Blackhawks advanced by beating the Calgary Flames 4-1 Monday night to win that series in six games
Canuck goaltender Roberto Luongo said it’s nice to get the waiting and wondering over.
“It’s nice to know we finally have an opponent,” said Luongo, who leads all playoff goalies with a 1.15 goals-against average and a .962 save percentage. “It kind of gets the butterflies going a bit in your stomach.”
The Canucks are also the last Canadian team remaining in the playoffs. Bieksa smiled when asked about Vancouver being Canada’s team.
“Hopefully we’ll get some of the fans back East to start cheering for us,” he said.
The last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup was the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.
There are similarities between the Blues and Blackhawks. Both are teams stocked with young talent.
In Nikolai Khabibulin, the Hawks have a goaltender who won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker supply plenty of offensive power.
Coach Alain Vigneault said the Blackhawks can come at an opponent in waves.
“Chicago presents a team with so much balance,” said Vigneault. “They have three lines that can score on a regular basis.
“They have their energy line and they have defencemen that join the rush a lot better than St. Louis did. We are going to need our four lines.
“We’re going to need our forwards to do a really good job as far as reading the rush, picking up their defence and, when the opportunity is there, to hit their defence in a legal, physical way.”
Kesler said the Canucks also can’t continue to dare fate by taking penalties. Vancouver was called for 29 penalties for 81 minutes against St. Louis. The Canucks were saved by a penalty-killing unit that was 95.8 per cent effective.
The Blackhawks power play is second best in the playoffs at 29.2 per cent.
“We have to be very disciplined,” said Kesler. “The first round wasn’t good enough.
“We weren’t nearly as disciplined as we should have been and we gave up a lot of power plays. We have to nip that in the bud, especially against a team like this.”
Protecting Luongo will also be important.
It was a hit on the Canuck captain that started the blood boiling the last time the two teams played. The Blackhawks were also accused of bumping into Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
Canuck defenceman Shane O’Brien didn’t want to talk about the history between the clubs.
“I remember a lot about that but I won’t talk about that,” he said with a smile. “Actions speak louder than words. I guarantee one thing. They are not going to be getting to Lui as easily as maybe they got to Kiprusoff.”
Vancouver and Chicago split four games this season. The Blackhawks won the first two games 4-2 and 3-1. The Canucks won the last two meetings 7-3 and 4-0.
The Canucks entered the playoffs as the third seed in the Western Conference, finishing with 100 points from a 45-27-10 record. The Blackhawks had 104 points from a 46-24-12 record, but were second in the Central Division, eight points behind the Detroit Red Wings.
The Canucks enter the series healthy. Defenceman Willie Mitchell, who had missed the last few days of practice with “body soreness” skated with the team Tuesday.
The Blackhawks remained in Calgary on Monday night and arrived in Vancouver on Tuesday.
While the Canucks are rested, veteran centre Mats Sundin said the Blackhawks have momentum on their side.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “They played really well to beat Calgary in six games.
“We have to make sure we get ready and get the intensity and get our team ready to play like we did against St. Louis.”