VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks often enter third periods down, but they never feel like they’re out.
The Canucks were Comeback Kids during the regular season and have continued that trend in the playoffs.
“For some reason, in some games, this group needs to be down to start playing the game we are capable of playing,” centre Ryan Kesler said Monday. “We know our offence is probably the strongest it’s been.
“We have a lot of lines that are very confident and we know we can put the puck in the net.”
The Canucks trailed 2-1 after 40 minutes but beat the Kings 4-2 Sunday to clinch the best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final series in six games. In Game 4, Vancouver trailed 3-2 after the second period but won 6-4 to tie the series 2-2.
“Our players have proven through the season, and again in the playoffs, they are a very resilient group,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “They don’t quit.
“As long as there is life, they keep pushing. To come back in the regular season is something. To come back in the playoffs is even more challenging. Our guys were able to do it twice on the road.”
It’s no wonder the Canucks don’t fret when down heading into the third. Vancouver led the NHL during the regular season with 11 wins when after trailing following two periods.
“We’ve come from behind so many times, it builds confidence,” said defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who tied Sunday’s game early in the third period with his first goal of the playoffs.
“People were saying ‘they can do it in the regular season but they can’t do it in the playoffs. It will be the kiss of death.’ We don’t like playing from behind, but we proved that we can come back even in the playoffs.”
Heart, desire, and a little luck have been factors in the Canucks’ ability to comeback in games. But there also is a little science.
Centre Kyle Wellwood said team fitness plays a role.
Key players, especially twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, still have penalty of gas in the tank heading into the third. Daniel scored the winning goals in both Games 4 and 6.
“They are as fit as players as I’ve ever seen,” said Wellwood.
“If they have one checking line against them, it can be really hard to contain them. After a long game, it will wear the other team down.’
The goaltending of Roberto Luongo can also make the difference. On a night when Luongo is hot, he can slam the door on opponents. Vancouver outscored the Kings 11-3 in third periods.
Forward Alex Burrows said coming from behind isn’t a team strategy.
“We’d probably like to go into the third with a lead and play a solid defensive game,” he said. “But we are never out of it, and that’s a good thing.”
While happy to advance, the Canucks know winning one round in the playoffs won’t make management, or the team’s rabid fans, happy.
Vancouver has made the second round of the playoffs three of the last four seasons. Last year, the Canucks lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks, while in 2007, Anaheim eliminated Vancouver in five games.
The Canucks missed the playoffs in 2008 and 2006.
“We’ve been to this stage and we haven’t been able to get it done,” said Vigneault. “Again we’re at this same stage, but I think we’re better prepared for this challenge.
“We are getting another opportunity and I really believe we are in good shape.”
The Canucks will take a lot of firepower into the second round.
Mikael Samuelsson, the former Detroit Red Wing signed as a free agent over the summer, leads the playoffs with seven goals. He’s been moved up to the first line with the Sedins and the group has combined for 29 points.
Daniel Sedin has four goals and 10 assists, while Henrik Sedin?the NHL’s regular-season points leader?has one goal and seven assists.
Meanwhile, Steve Bernier has been a pleasant surprise for the Canucks. The right-winger managed just 11 goals in 59 games during a regular season where he battled injuries, but he has four goals in the playoffs.
The win over Los Angeles was just the second time in franchise history the Canucks have finished off an opponent in six games. The only other time came in 1993 against the Winnipeg Jets.
Vancouver has not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since the team’s 1994 run to the Stanley Cup final, which the Canucks lost in seven games to the New York Rangers.
Wellwood said the Canucks still have a lot to prove in the playoffs.
“Last year everyone was kind of content,” he said. “We felt like we almost won (against) Chicago.
“Our goal was to get back to this point. Now we want to prove we can beat an elite team.”