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Larenzo

After jumping out to an early 2-0 series lead on home ice, the Vancouver Canucks return to Vancouver tied after a two game Beantown beating.

ac1d07907afcfcb6e1f5245f7db174be-getty-114958525jh106_vancouver_ca.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=111&yc=1&wc=439&hc=439&q=70&sig=Mbmtb04hVWFYVUF6DqvvzQ-- Roberto Luongo looks on after Rich Peverly opens the scoring in Game 4

It just never comes 'easy' for the Vancouver Canucks. Of course, being that it's the Stanley Cup Finals, one wouldn't expect it should. But at the beginning of the series, it seemed like the Bruins might never get a goal on Roberto Luongo. When Alex Burrows scored 11 seconds into overtime in Game 2, you could feel the confidence eminating from the faces of every Canuck caught on camera. My, what a turnabout a change of venue brings to a series.

After ripping the Canucks a new one in Game 3, the sea of black and yellow in TD Garden was loud to start the affair. They went raucous when Rich Peverly scored his first of two goals at the 11:59 mark of the opening period. The Canucks, who entered the game 1 for 16 on the powerplay, had an opportunity on a Brad Marchand cross-checking penalty to draw even. But Bruins bodies were flying around, getting down in front of pucks, and whatever did get through, Tim Thomas was able to see, and subsequently stop.

To be frank, the refereeing was the poorest I've witnessed in the post-season. A lot of Bruins "head-snaps" and soccer-esque dives were rewarded with penalties, particularly one embellished by Andrew Ference. Mason Raymond was forechecking behind the net, reached in with his stick, which completely missed Ference's chin, but the head-snap sold the call. Also, Jannik Hansen received a pass at the attacking blue-line, and both skates were onside as he moved in with the puck for a 3-on-2, but the refs blew it down. Lastly, they deflated the Canucks early in the third period, giving Henrik Sedin a "slashing" penalty. In reality, the Bruin fell as a result of tripping on his team-mates' leg at the blue-line. This after they missed the Bruins having 1 extra player illegally on the ice.

ap-201106082356861807498.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=1&yc=1&wc=440&hc=440&q=70&sig=KiTSqg4zCqorXfQtrYstKQ-- Dennis Seidenberg tries to clear traffic from in front of Tim Thomas (photo courtesy of AP Photo / The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)

It's hard to say which Canuck team will surface in Game 5, with some controversy already on who should start in net, Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider. Alain Vigneault has already shocked the hockey world in that regard during the Chicago series, starting Schneider in Game 6 after back-to-back blowouts. Schneider, who relieved Luongo after Peverly's second goal 3:39 into the third period, had this to say. "It was just a couple unlucky goals. I don't know if he (ticked) off the hockey gods, but it just seems like the past two games he can't buy a break."

ap-201106082357862217502.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=1&yc=1&wc=440&hc=440&q=70&sig=tw8vPYLg6ZQTGDIEh4dcfw-- Cory Schneider, Roberto Luongo and Kevin Bieksa watch as the final seconds tick down on Game 4

It's quite apparent that the absence of their top shutdown defenceman, Dan Hamhuis (who didn't even skate with the team in practice today), has had a rippling effect on the team. His partner, Kevin Bieksa, looks like he misses him the most. Normally, he has the luxury of being more aggressive carrying the puck into Boston territory. Without that chemistry, the Canucks are having a tougher time initiating offence, which is often derived from their pinching defense. Not only that, but Hamhuis' minutes have to be filled somehow, and that has exposed Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff's deficiencies in their own end.

Though Bruins coach Claude Julien has stated he wants his players to play with class, Brad Marchand's late game antics aren't helping in that respect. He already warned Mark Recchi and Milan Lucic about their mockery of the finger-biting gestures. But, as Marchand was being escorted off the ice by the officials with a triple-penalty, he performed the "dusting off of the hands" gesture as he went by the Canucks bench. It's this kind of disrespect that hockey players hate, and incites violent acts down the road. Interestingly, Marchand didn't "win" any fight, or really have any claim to do that. It will be interesting to see if he's a targeted man in Game 5. With quite possibly the most disproportionate nose in hockey (now that Mike Ricci has retired), I'm certain the little guy (5 '9) might have it smacked for his late cheap hits in Game 4.

ap-201106082340852427422.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=57&yc=1&wc=328&hc=328&q=70&sig=GBxxyiChkg9WWOiUMHdRbA-- Brad Marchand clothes-lined a Canucks defenceman, then low-bridged Daniel Sedin, and chucks his gloves off, knowing someone is going to want a piece

With the series now a best of three, the one upside for Canucks fans is that during the regular season, with their President Trophy winning campaign, they earned home-ice advantage throughout the Playoffs. Hopefully the long flight from Boston will give them a chance to readjust mentally, and prepare them for what lies ahead. In a series where home ice has meant so much, it's imperative they corral momentum back. After all, Rogers Arena has been witness to many Canuck victories throughout the year.

Larenzo

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Larenzo

As Canucks fans continue to live in the here and now, digesting every morsel of Vancouver playoff hockey, it's easy to forget the stepping stones that brought them this far.

ap-201105161423517860424.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=77&yc=1&wc=287&hc=287&q=70&sig=WwXHcB1xJICySBjQQf_EYA-- Mike Gillis, Alain Vigneault, and Rick Bowness have proven the cream rises to the top

So often in professional sports, media and critics either directly or indirectly raise the question: What have you done for me lately? For the moment, let's fail to adopt that mentality, and recall a former General Manager for the Vancouver Canucks, Brian Burke. For that matter, let's involve another, Dave Nonis. While it's impossible to say what would have evolved were they to stay longer, the results they produced are irrefutable.

The Western conference finals we are witnessing involve a solid number of players that these former GM's brought in during their tenure. You may recall one of them from the third period of Game One - With the game on the line, this Hart Trophy candidate laid his body down to block a slap-shot. Sure, he didn't score a goal or register a point in the game, but his importance to the outcome can't be understated. By now you must realize I'm referring to Daniel Sedin, one half of the oh-so-important tandem Burke brought in. He fervently worked the phones and 1999 Draft floor to obtain the 2nd and 3rd picks to ensure Henrik and Daniel would play together, in Vancouver.

e9e464d0cc59ba9286990d570da9caa1-getty-114220384hh006_stanley_cup_.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=92&yc=1&wc=478&hc=478&q=70&sig=QFus9Y1fAKmWmKLgRt88kQ-- Keith Ballard works on his slap-shot under the tutelage of Assistant Coach Rick Bowness (photo courtesy of Harry How/ Getty Images)

It would be an understatement to say that, prior to the Sedin-era, the Vancouver Canucks organization had challenges developing talent from within. Suffice it to say that Shawn Antoski, significant though he was in a trade, didn't pan out. Even 'can't misses' such as Petr Nedved, wound up improving their game, but only once they were dealt to another organization. Even more specifically, only now are they seeing dividends from investments developed in Manitoba in the farm system with the Moose. Cory Schneider is the first real bonafide Canuck goaltender produced in quite a span, thanks largely in part to Dave Nonis, who also saw promise in Ryan Kesler, and Alex Burrows. For reference, we need only look back on Troy Gamble, Mike Fountain and Kevin Weekes (the latter brought in via trade). Now, players such as Cody Hodgson and Sergei Shirokov that have been called up to the parent club show similar promise as the next generation of in-house talent.

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Sergei Shirokov (#25) and Jeff Tambellini (#10) stretch during Western Conference Finals practice at Rogers Arena

Ultimately, although GM's have a lot to do with the process, there are others involved that drastically alter the final product that a team ices. One cannot acknowledge the contributions of Burke and Nonis without giving kudos to the Ownership group. Francesco Aquilini, the Managing Director of the Aquilini Investment Group has, like the Vancouver Canucks team he owns, grown and progressed. He hand-picked Mike Gillis, a retired player and player agent, which raised eyebrows across the league. But like so many of his other business decisions, Aquilini paved the way for a seeming stroke of genius. Gillis was instrumental in keeping Henrik and Daniel Sedin away from the free agency market. He flew to Sweden and negotiated identical $30.5 m deals hours before the July 1st deadline. He immediately set his sights on Roberto Luongo, whose four-year contract, signed by Dave Nonis, was coming to an end. Luongo imposed a Sept. 13 deadline before ceasing negotiations for the upcoming season. Several days after, Gillis signed Luongo to an historic 12 year, $64 million contract. Gillis also signed unrestricted free agent Mikael Samuelsson, and emerging Kontinental Hockey League prospect, Sergei Shirokov (pictured earlier).

The Canuck Way will soon examine other integral components responsible for the exciting product we see before us in the 2011 Western Conference Finals.

Larenzo

With the Vancouver Canucks advancing to the Conference finals for the third time in franchise history, the debate is on: Who would they rather face, the Detroit Red Wings or San Jose Sharks?

dec2a45807a462167872cd4bdbf98553-getty-113247565fb013_vancouver_ca.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=1&yc=1&wc=653&hc=653&q=70&sig=pFfGaWBbi7f3n9R3huzzUQ-- Roberto Luongo celebrates from his knees shortly after making his last save in Game 6 (photo courtesy of Frederick Breedon/ Getty Images)

Of course, for the time being, the Canucks have the luxury of taking a well-earned 'breather' until either Saturday or Sunday. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead against the Predators at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Monday night, guiding home a tight defensive effort to close the series. Henrik Sedin spoke to the feeling of putting away a plucky Predators team, anchored by solid defense and goaltending. "Relief," started the Canucks captain. "It was one of those series where they get on a roll and win this game, and all of a sudden there's a seventh game. That's the playoffs. There were a lot of ups and downs, so we are happy."

But Ryan Kesler, who almost literally put the team on his back and delivered the series, insists the team isn't congratulating itself yet. "We have bigger things in mind," stated the leading playoff point producer. We're not just going to be satisfied making it to the conference finals." Kesler set up both goals in the series clincher, and was in on a remarkable 10 of 14 goals in the series overall.

7a4f3087af3f244ec1454d9842e1f022-getty-113247565fb016_vancouver_ca.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=1&yc=1&wc=541&hc=541&q=70&sig=fW4HwIo1_9KUpEfZDLhZ9w-- Ryan Kesler: "We have bigger things in mind. We're not just going to be satisfied making it to the conference finals."

The Canucks now await the victor from the San Jose - Detroit series, where the Wings have erased a 3-0 deficit, and trail 3-2. Another Selke trophy (best defensive forward) finalist, Pavel Datsyuk, has hoisted his team and led the way with several clutch performances.

So, who would the Canucks rather play - The Red Wings or the Sharks? Although the regular season encounters can only reveal so much information regarding possible playoff match-ups, let's see how they fared in each 4 game set.

Canucks vs Detroit Red Wings: Series tied 2-2 (Canucks take 6 of 8 possible points)

Nov. 6 - (6-4 win) Canucks pepper Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard with 23 shots in the third period, scoring 3 times in that span. Niklas Kronwall and Manny Malhotra score twice.

Dec. 22 - (4-5 OT loss) Both teams shoot the lights out, combining for 84 shots. The Sedins both score, but Henrik Zetterberg bags a couple, including the overtime winner.

Jan. 8 - (1-2 Shootout loss) Roberto Luongo and Jimmy Howard record a dazzling .970 save percentage; Jiri Hudler scores the lone shootout goal, killing the Vancouver fans' Saturday night buzz.

Mar. 23 (2-1 win) Both goalies put on another superb display, and the twins produce Daniel's 39th and 40th goals of the season. Luongo stops 39 of 40 shots.

ap-201105092249821717441.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=1&yc=1&wc=379&hc=379&q=70&sig=PGF93F57srpIFyYoJtkOsg-- Both team captains, Henrik Sedin and Shea Weber, shake hands at center ice - the previous two years this was the Canucks' queue to exit the playoffs (photo courtesy of AP Photo)

Canucks vs San Jose Sharks: Canucks win series 3-1 (take 7 of possible 8 points)

Nov. 26 - (6-1 win) San Jose outshot the Canucks 33-32, but Luongo stymies the Sharks, Keith Ballard scores his 1st as a Canuck, and Mikael Samuelsson records a pair of goals.

Jan. 3 - (4-3 win) The Sharks score 3 in the second period, but Alex Burrows and Daniel Sedin lead the way with a goal and an assist each at the HP Pavilion, dubbed the "Shark Tank".

Jan. 20 - (1-2 shootout loss) Roberto Luongo and Antti Niemi headline this affair; San Jose outshot the Canucks 46-37, uber-rookie Logan Couture scores in regulation, and Joe Pavelski scores the lone goal of the shootout.

Mar. 10 - (5-4 shootout win) Cory Schneider gets riddled with 48 shots, but is perfect in the shootout. Alex Burrows, Sami Salo, Mason Raymond and Daniel Sedin record singles, with Burrows sealing the shootout with it's only goal.

Interestingly, though many Canucks fans have voiced their desire to avoid San Jose in the conference finals, Vancouver sported a better regular season record against them. Fans cite the Sharks physical style of play as being their main deterrent to playing them in the third round of the playoffs. A common thread for the Canucks is that 6 of the 8 games played against the Sharks and Red Wings were decided by one goal. One thing all Canucks fans can agree on, though, is that they hope the Red Wings win Game 6, extending the series and hopefully tiring out their next round opponent.

Memories 17 years in the making, I'm Larenzo Jensen with The Canuck Way

Larenzo

After infamously being dubbed "the best player to not yet score in the NHL playoffs", Ryan Kesler scores twice in the Canucks 3-2 overtime win in Nashville.

ap-201105040026015863120.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=86&yc=1&wc=269&hc=269&q=70&sig=Ts1NlK6b1vCRM58XV4edSw-- Kesler is surrounded by teammates after tipping home the overtime winner (photos courtesy of AP Photo)

One year ago, during their playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings, Roberto Luongo was asked about the play of Ryan Kesler. "He's a warrior. That's all you can call him, a warrior." Canucks fans hearts sagged after a disappointing loss in Vancouver in double overtime. Much attention has been focused on the lack of offensive contributions from key Canuck sources, including (but not limited to) Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and Ryan Kesler. In Kesler's defence, though, many point to his shutdown performance on Jonathan Toews.

Just prior to the playoffs, The Canuck Way examined Ryan's importance to the team, in several aspects of the game. Though he's had some very exciting performances throughout the regular season, lending over to the playoffs, Game 3 in Nashville might have been his most important in a Canucks sweater. He paid the price all night, scoring an important first powerplay goal, and set up Chris Higgins for another. With the Canucks on the power play for a hooking call that he drew against Shea Weber, he deftly tipped a Mikael Samuelsson point wrister for the win. "It feels good to get this one and good to go up 2-1 in this series," Kesler told reporters post-game.

ap-201105032354860723015.jpg Former Canuck Shane O'Brien watches helplessly after he failed to block a Mikael Samuelsson wrist shot that Kesler deflects 5-hole on Pekka Rinne

Fan reaction in Nashville closely emulated (Predator winger) Jerred Smithson's, who smashed his stick over the crossbar after Kesler's goal. Following suit, a fan threw their beverage onto the ice in the Nashville zone, while others rained their orange towels onto the playing surface as the Canucks celebrated. Predators coach Barry Trotz took a dim view of the penalty call that led to the overtime opportunity. "He chicken-winged the stick and kept moving, and really if you look at it, Webs is trying to pull his stick out of there. I've seen it before. One of the earlier games, he drew a couple of penalties by chicken-winging the stick and just holding it there, and keep moving and see if he can sell it."

Predator center David Legwand, who opened the scoring shorthanded, echoed his coach's thoughts. "It's a horrible call. Obviously they're going to think it's a good call, but Kesler's obviously holding his stick. I don't know if (referee) Timmy Peel had a date or something, but he wanted to get out of here pretty quick, it looked like. It's a tough way to lose a game."

In typical fashion, Kesler was unapologetic. "He was hooking me. I thought it was a good call. We were the harder working team tonight, and we deserved that one." Leading 2-1, the Canucks now have a chance to take a strangle-hold on the series. Game Four resumes at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville at 5:30 PST.

With The Canuck Way playoff action, I'm Larenzo Jensen

Larenzo

No matter how they got here, or what direction they want to take in the future, the Vancouver Canucks are literally playing the most important game of their lives.

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Only three times in history has an NHL team erased a 3-0 series deficit to advance to the next round of the playoffs. There has been a lot of talk about the Canucks' chances of earning the dubious distinction as the fourth team to facilitate such a collapse.

Rife with drama and storylines, this series has seen it all, from big controversial hits, to starting goaltending controversy, and questionable officiating. But it all takes a back seat to the drama in store tonight at Rogers Arena in Vancouver at 7:00 pm PST.

A lot of experts agree that momentum clearly is the advantage the Chicago Blackhawks carry into Game 7. But the Canucks aren't without positive signs - they outworked the Blackhawks for most of Game 6, as well as controlling the tempo and play through the majority of the game.

Rather than recap all that's been, I'd like to shift focus onto Four Keys for the colossal Game Seven.

Key 1: Setting the tone

Getting off to a fast, motivated start, complete with energetic, hard-hitting physical shifts has been integral to both teams' success so far this series. More than any other night, it's imperative for the Canucks to wrest momentum back in their corner. The Canucks were able to surprise the Blackhawks physically in the first three games, with Alain Vigneault doing an excellent job rolling through his deep lines, and establishing a solid forecheck. With the element of surprise gone, it'll be extremely important for the third and fourth lines to deliver effective hits, getting Blackhawk defenders worrying about what is coming, not what they're going to set up.

ap-fd50c49837014f7196a2207d5cf42469.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=72&yc=1&wc=297&hc=297&q=70&sig=VUokpiYLWtGyCQp8tXldFQ-- Alex Burrows was one of the best Canucks in Game 6, and will need to put it all on the line tonight against the Hawks (photo courtesy of Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)

Key 2: Sedins re-establishing the cycle game

A very positive sign in the second period of Game 6 was the amount of time that Daniel, Henrik and Mikael (Samuelsson) spent in the Blackhawks zone. Their cycling of the puck is what made them so effective and dangerous in the regular season, and they appeared to be wearing down the Hawks defenders with it. Both teams have done a good job collapsing down low to limit the rebound chances, but Vancouver could gain a decided advantage if the Sedins force Chicago to expend valuable energy chasing the puck down low.

Key 3: Goaltending performance

There is no question in my mind that Roberto Luongo will be starting Game 7. Subsequently, despite having played for Olympic Gold, and playing in some large playoff settings before, this is the game of his life. In only his first year of a 12 year, $64 M contract, the stakes couldn't be higher. Win or lose, it's up to Roberto to prove he can come through when it's all on the line. He did it before against the Dallas Stars, but fair or not, tonight will completely shape the rest of his career, given his past performances against the Blackhawks.

Key 4: Officiating

Unfortunately, the officiating has been suspect the last 3 games, and has been a hot button topic, not only in Vancouver, but League-wide. The Blackhawks have enjoyed a 22-12 edge (in powerplay chances) over the last four games, and hockey pundits agree that GM Mike Gillis had reason to be irate after Game 6. If the officials decide to punish the Canucks with more penalties, and miss calls like the one on Dave Bolland slashing Henrik Sedin's stick in half, it could be a very frustrating game for Canucks' fans. Expect the boo-birds to come out if the officials call the game similarly to Game Six.

At the end of the day, though it's little solace for Canucks fans, the hockey world will benefit from what should be an intense Game Seven. This is what hockey is all about, and every youngster in love with the sport dreams about playing a significant role in a deciding Game Seven. Will it be elation, or utter dejection for Canucks fans following this pivotal game in the series and franchises' history? Kevin Bieksa might have set the stage the best: "Sometimes it takes all your lifelines to earn $1 million. That's where we're at. We've used our 3."

Wishing the Canucks every fortune here from The Canuck Way, I'm Larenzo Jensen

Larenzo

With just enough momentum swings to keep the fans at Rogers Arena guessing, they still went home with a renewed sense of optimism: The Canucks CAN beat the Blackhawks.

6605fde67521881864c9493ff416a8b7-getty-111982388rl19_blackhawks_canucks.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=1&yc=1&wc=660&hc=660&q=70&sig=sCJ0Ckr0A3Vcmrh5agw_.w-- Viktor Stalberg and Sami Salo jostle while Roberto Luongo makes a pad save (photo courtesy of Rich Lam/Getty Images)

The shift after taking a holding penalty, Jannik Hansen opened the scoring for the Canucks, adding validity to the importance of "role players" in the playoffs. Hansen's hands, as CBC color commentator Jim Hughson was coined, might be catching up to his feet. His second in as many games was important on a number of levels. With 41 seconds remaining in the first period, Patrick Sharp took a tripping penalty, which the Canucks capitalized on 30 seconds into the 2nd period. Daniel Sedin set a screen in front of Corey Crawford, and tipped a Christian Ehrhoff point shot while jumping.

ap-4feccaa3c9394ec4a66af0402490e291.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=77&yc=1&wc=288&hc=288&q=70&sig=XVW_233FNRschK6Rm1C9oQ-- Cody Hodgson and Alex Burrows gather to help Alex Edler celebrate his late 2nd period goal

Chicago call-up Ben Smith (third star) had a gift-wrapped deflection off Luongo's trapper end up on his stick, with a half-open net to shoot at. Brian Bickell got around Kevin Bieksa on the left wing, shot a sharp angle shot, which Luongo only got a piece of with his glove. But the games' 2nd star, Alex Edler would put the Canucks back up by a deuce, with 14 seconds remaining in the frame. He slapped a seeing eye shot from the point, that Ben Smith's stick barely glanced, but it was enough to get up and over Crawford's shoulder.

ap-f1c7cfcc84ca4b019c0097ec831bc626.jpgRoberto Luongo makes a save as ex-Canuck Ryan Johnson tries to redirect the puck (photo courtesy of AP Photo)

But the Hawks were determined to insert some deja vu from the last two playoff series against the hard-luck Canucks. Within two minutes of the third period, Viktor Stalberg did Yeoman's work on the forecheck, and got off a quick wrister from the right wing boards. He surprised both Alex Edler and (subsequently screened) Roberto Luongo; it was the perfect height, just a foot off the ice below Lui's trapper.

Daniel Sedin deftly took a breakout pass off his right skate, then took the puck deep into Chicago territory with line-mates Henrik and Burrows in support. The Chicago defense hesitated, long enough for Daniel to stop, tee it up, and bury it top shelf.

The crowd had barely settled back into their seats, when Ben Smith pounced on a Michael Frolik rebound, renewing a nervous energy amongst the capacity crowd. "There was no panic," insisted Ryan Kesler. "We were calm the whole way. I'm confident in this group. We don't panic, just stick to our system and stay solid. It's a different team this year. We're growing together, and we've been through this before." They certainly are and have, and Canucks fans are elated that this year, everything seems different, highlighted by the fact they are heading to Chicago leading the series two games to none.

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What happens next in the Windy City? Stay tuned to The Canuck Way for more Playoff coverage...

Larenzo

Amidst all the story lines heading into the Canucks and Blackhawks third straight post-season match-up, Ryan Kesler's maturation process is perhaps the most under-reported.

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Ryan Kesler battles Anton Babchuk for position during the last game of the season (photo courtesy of AP Photo)

I recall the solemn and hushed tone in Kesler's voice as he was interviewed by reporters some 10 1/2 months ago. He was being asked whether players on the team, himself included, were playing hurt in the playoffs. Whether he was choking back tears, or was simply frustrated beyond belief, no-one save for himself knows the real truth. Speaking of truth, I will admit that Kesler has been one of my personal favorites, but after listening to Alex Burrows answer the same question, I will also admit Kesler's response showed some immaturity.

trans.gifAs time would tell, Alex Burrows was playing with a shoulder that required off-season surgery, that would force him to miss the first 11 games of the season. The difference being that Ryan Kesler dwelt more on the fact that he was injured, while Burrows refused to use it as a crutch. He said that in the Playoffs, everyone plays hurt, -it's just the way hockey is in the spring.

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Canucks fans are hoping they'll see Kesler celebrate like this more than once during this year's playoffs (photo courtesy of Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Using Alex Burrows to illustrate Kesler's development is interesting in itself, because although Kesler got a taste of the NHL first (28 games 2003/04), he and Burrows both started to get regular duty during the 2005/06 season. But Burrows is four years older than Kesler, having paid his dues in the East Coast Hockey League before making the transition to the American Hockey League.

Last year, Kesler scored 25 goals and recorded 104 penalty minutes. During the playoffs, he played 12 games, with 1 goal and 9 assists. Not long after Kesler's interviews where he spoke to being injured, Mike Gillis sat down with him during team exit meetings. He showed him a clip of Jonathan Toews battling for the puck during their series with the Canucks. He got cross-checked, then another to be knocked down. He got up, and shortly thereafter, the Blackhawks scored. This year, Kesler scored 41 goals, and recorded 66 penalty minutes.

Many hockey pundits will agree that Kesler is the best 2nd line center in the NHL, and on many teams, would pivot the top line. For the Blackhawks, Duncan Keith and Brian Campbell will be charged with the task of shutting down the Sedin twins along with Alex Burrows. While not carved in stone, it should mean that Kesler will draw the Brent Seabrook and Chris Campoli pairing on defense. Whether Joel Quennville decides to match Patrick Kane's line centered by ex-Canuck, Ryan Johnson, or go with his checking line of Brian Bickell, Jake Dowell and Michael Frolik, also is unknown.

Regardless of who he plays against, Canucks fans should find Kesler's growth from last season a very interesting subplot. When you tie for first on your team in scoring, and fourth overall in the League, you're bound to get some attention. The Canucks playoff hopes could literally hinge on whether he's grown and matured enough to handle the spotlight.

Strap in for more Playoffs done The Canuck Way! Thanks for reading, I'm Larenzo Jensen

Larenzo

With two games remaining in the 2010/11 regular season, it's time to show some love for individual achievements within the teams' structure. Disclaimer: These are NOT official releases; the selections are yet to be announced. They are just my personal opinion, and in turn, open for debate and discussion.

ap-71c8e9e1804842ea8a2c54fa32f36846.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=59&yc=1&wc=323&hc=323&q=70&sig=Jg.h7wWQtXNKQDxq6DoBnQ-- Ryan Kesler often keeps you on the edge of your seat with anticipation for what he'll do next

Cyrus McLean: Awarded to the highest scoring Canuck and pretty self-explanatory, Daniel Sedin has this all but locked away, currently with 100 points. Considering 95% of goals have both Henrik and Daniel in on the scoring, and Daniel has an 8 point lead over his brother, Daniel will receive the Cyrus McLean.

Molson Cup Trophy: Most Molson Cup selections. Typically, the winner of this award was the winner of the Cyrus McLean, so there's strong indication Daniel Sedin will win this award as well. That being stated, the official count hasn't been released, and Ryan Kesler could be in the mix, but Daniel is favored.

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Fred J. Hume: "Unsung Hero" is the designation of this award. It's quite interesting to look at this award and past recipients, and compare the style of players. Past winners include Martin Gelinas (twice), Jarkko Ruutu, and Alex Auld. This season, the player that has exhibited the grit, perseverance and dedication to his role in my mind is Jannik Hansen. The industrious Dane has become an integral part of the Canucks checking system, and is perhaps the teams best fore-checker. I'd need extra hands were I to count the number of times fans at Rogers arena have cheered his efforts as he headed to the bench after a penalty kill.

Most Exciting Player: There could be a real argument here for another award to Daniel Sedin, but much like past winner Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler has truly brought fans to their feet this season. His end to end rushes, his diligent work on the penalty kill, his solid hitting on the fore-check give him the check-mark here. Although he could stand to pass a little more once inside the blue-line, it's just nitpicking. He is by far and away the most exciting second line player, not just for the Canucks, but in the NHL.

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Even Walter "Babe" Pratt would shake Christian Ehrhoff's hand for his excellent 2010/11 season. Apparently Luongo has been impressed too (photos courtesy of Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Walter "Babe" Pratt: Awarded to the "Best Defencemen", it would be difficult not to give the nod to last years' recipient,Christian Ehrhoff. Of course, I'm a Dan Hamhuis supporter, and seeing what he's done for Kevin Bieksa's game this year, he deserves consideration. As far as pure defending goes, I'd award that to Hamhuis in a heartbeat. But Ehrhoff should finish the season with 50 points, and it is an "all-around" category, much like the Norris trophy itself. He's had some luck in the health category, something few Canuck defencemen can boast, which has helped his numbers. It would be a closer race if Bieksa and Edler hadn't missed significant time due to injuries.

Cyclone Taylor: "Most Valuable Player" is quite an honor to bestow upon a team member, and speaks volumes to their worth within the organization. Several players come to mind, including last year's recipient, Henrik Sedin. Roberto Luongo has had a very understated year also, turning in what could be a career season in Vancouver. Fans have also thrown Ryan Kesler's name into the mix, especially after a red-hot first half of the season. But if you took Daniel Sedin off the team, I feel that would immediately change Vancouver's status as "Contender" to "Pretender". Not just for the 41 goals he's potted, nor the 100+ points he's contributed, but also for the class, the example and leadership qualities (yes, I'm referring to Daniel) he exudes. In my mind, the team would suffer most if they had to play without Daniel, and for that reason, he has my vote for Most Valuable Player.

Larenzo

Presidents', Sweet!

The 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks have reached regular season heights never before witnessed in the franchise's 40 year history.

ap-ed42cc4b2b6c4c72927533fd9b97166b.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=60&yc=1&wc=321&hc=321&q=70&sig=w75dB9od6oCNGagz5hjpfw-- Team mascot Fin helps the Canucks with a modest, but rousing celebration (photo courtesy of AP Photo)

With their 3-1 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Kings, combined with Philadelphia's 1-0 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers, the Canucks claimed their first Presidents' trophy. The Kings, missing their two top offensive players (Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams), started the game hungry and gave the Canucks all they could handle in the first period. But as is so often the case, the Canucks stuck to their game-plan, playing a solid shutdown game, and waited for their opportunities. Christian Ehrhoff broke a 1-1 tie with less than a second left in the second stanza, while Daniel Sedin recorded his 99th and 100th points of the season. Sedin increased his league leading point total to 8 over the nearest competitor, Martin St. Louis, and looks to be a lock for the Art Ross trophy.

f3f8c6bd313c22ead06a67d4a9f286af-getty-103000804rl19_kings_canucks.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=98&yc=1&wc=465&hc=465&q=70&sig=SyxNCXegtkvF6xZ5o7MVoA-- The players pay tribute to their fans after clinching their first Presidents' trophy

With a short, but fitting tribute at the end of the game, the Canucks paid homage to another capacity (18,860) crowd at Rogers Arena. A rousing and emotional theme song marked the occasion, as they raised their sticks in appreciation, with team mascot Fin on the ice waving a large Vancouver flag. It truly was something to see, and made one wonder what further celebrations may be waiting in the wings.

But it wasn't all party hats, balloons and confetti, as the team only had a mild celebration. The team continues to focus on getting ready for the post-season, and appears to have a much different mindset than last season. Last year, they wore hats to mark their second straight Northwest division, but the skate around was all the fans got to witness Thursday night. "Nope, nothing," began a fairly serious Daniel Sedin. "It means we have home-ice advantage, but other than that, nothing." His brother was a little more charitable, but not by much. "It means we have a great team. It doesn't mean we're going to win it all, but it means we have a great shot and it's up to us in there. We said all along if we play our way and the way we can, it's going to be tough for teams to beat us in seven games."

5fd1b018830f48971d96731a399a4329-getty-103000804rl20_kings_canucks.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=104&yc=1&wc=453&hc=453&q=70&sig=aEE_cfohus.aJysL2RDinA-- Young Chris Tanev is listed day-to-day after being hit from behind by Kyle Clifford (photo courtesy of Rich Lam/Getty Images)

A couple of interesting milestones are within reach, outside of the Presidents' and Art Ross trophies. The Canucks could become the first team since the 1984-85 New York Islanders to be first in goals for and goals against in a single season. They could also become the first post-expansion (1968) era team to be ranked first in goals, goals against, power-play and penalty killing.

The Edmonton Oilers, who have lost 11 straight, are in town Saturday. Having lost all four previous games to the Canucks, they'll be hard pressed not to extend the streak to a dozen.

With files from AP Photo and Getty Images, I'm Larenzo Jensen

Larenzo

Some musings on the Vancouver Canucks, and what it would mean if the Stanley Cup Playoffs were to start today.

ap-f4417a214cb144df828e992532337335.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=1&yc=1&wc=350&hc=350&q=70&sig=tcF7tSpXimMsv.I37stDig-- Kesler: "Hank, did you really just squeeze that backhander top shelf? Of course you did!"

  • Though they have six games remaining, the Canucks would face their playoff nemesis of the last two seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks
  • They would still have set a franchise record for most wins in a season, with 50
  • Vancouver would already be guaranteed one trophy, the President's trophy (for best record in the NHL regular season)
ap-da6a4aaa62b1490188c9b27877df378e.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=42&yc=1&wc=357&hc=357&q=70&sig=kgQ.JTFaQonOnKJPeHCQXw-- Christian Ehrhoff sneaks a wrister past a surprised Mathieu Garon in Columbus (photos courtesy of AP Photo)

  • Three defensemen would be shelved because of injury, Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, and Andrew Alberts
  • Be one road win shy of a franchise record nine straight away from home (can still be accomplished in Nashville today)
  • Would own the best power-play record in the league, 69 goals for, and 25.3 % efficiency
  • Be tied for best penalty kill with the Pittsburgh Penguins at 86.3 %
  • Daniel Sedin follows in brother Henrik's footsteps, and earns Art Ross trophy (most points during the regular season)
  • Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis tie for second best plus/minus in the league
  • Roberto Luongo records third best goals against average and save percentage: 2.18, .927%, has most wins with 35

ap-f28f7f28f72242a296e1c768120eca3c.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=13&yc=1&wc=416&hc=416&q=70&sig=CrX8Uk9x9fh5v3qs1GuJMw-- Jannik Hansen and Matt Calvert work for the puck in the 2nd period in Columbus, Ohio

  • Daniel Sedin notches 40 goals, third most in the league
  • Ryan Kesler shatters previous best in goals (26 in 08-09) with 36
  • Henrik Sedin crowned leagues best set-up man with 70 assists

With six games to go, a large number of these stats won't change too drastically. The standings watch won't end until April 10th, but many Canucks fans are eager to see who their first test in the playoffs will be.

Juicing up for the playoffs? Stay tuned to The Canuck Way for all the excitement and team developments!

Larenzo

In The Driver's Seat

After defeating their nearest Western Conference competition, the Vancouver Canucks appear to be in the driver's seat with eight games remaining.

Canuck fans have voiced their concern this week over the team's chances heading into the post-season without Manny Malhotra. Signed in the off season to a healthy, though well-deserved contract, the uber-checking line center instantly brought a number of intangibles to the club. Widely considered one of the best face-off players in the game, Malhotra's special teams addition has worked wonders. Addressing the club's mediocre penalty killing (81.6 %, 18th overall) from last season, Manny's presence and change of puck possession time shorthanded is a large factor in the PK's resurgence. They currently sit fourth (85.8%), though Washington, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh all only have a 0.1% edge.

In their convincing 2-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, Daniel Sedin scored his 39th and 40th goals of the season, moving him into a tie with Cory Perry for 2nd in the Maurice "Rocket" Richard trophy race. Steven Stamkos still leads the race with 43 goals, but has been slumping since the All-Star break, while Perry and Sedin have both been surging. The multi-point night for the Sedins also has them 1-2 in league scoring,Daniel with 95 points, Henrik with 88 points. Runners-up are the other"team-tandem" of Steven Stamkos (86 pts) and Martin St. Louis (85pts).

More importantly, the win adds more degrees of separation between the Canucks and the pursuant Red Wings. Though 10 points with 8 games remaining is not insurmountable, it would take a collapse of epic proportions for Detroit to overtake the Conference title. For those watching the President's trophy race, the Philadelphia Flyers sat idle Wednesday night,trailing the Canucks by 8 points, but holding two games in hand.

Roberto Luongo, named the games 2nd star, was instrumental in the outcome. He turned all but one of the 40 shots directed at him away, earning a .975 save percentage.

With Malhotra's eye injury preventing him from playing the rest ofthe regular season or playoffs, protection has become a hot-button topic herein Vancouver. Kevin Bieksa, who saw his first action after missing 15games to a broken foot, echoed the sentiments of a number of team-mates. "I tried on about three or four (visors) before practice. I don't know, maybe over time. I'd like to get into one, but right now in midseason it would be hard for me to change. But it's definitely something I am considering." Bieksa led all Canucks in ice-time with23:19 in his return; the team continues their four game road trip Friday in Atlanta against the Thrashers.

I'm Larenzo Jensen on The Canuck Way

Larenzo

Vancouver and Colorado may have started the season both atop the Western Conference standings, but my, how things have changed.

The Vancouver Canucks enter tonights match-up with the Avalanche with 101 points, 11 more than second place Detroit (who hold 2 games in hand). Winners of six straight, even without their full defensive corps. Alternately, the Avalanche have lost 8 in a row, one win in their last 19, and only managed three points in February. I know, February is a short month and all, but it's not that short.

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Jannik Hansen and Ryan Kesler give Canucks fans another reason to jump out of their seats

For some Canuck fans, it's difficult to feel sympathy for the once proud, powerful Colorado organization. During the reign of Montreal-rejected Patrick Roy, Peter "Foppa" Forsberg, "Burnaby" Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk, many a Canuck dream was dashed. Quebec Nordiques fans had their team snatched out from underneath them just as they entered their prime. I remember grinding out road games on the radio in the ol' Camry. Canucks would be down 4-2 heading into the third at the Pepsi Center. The last thing I wanted to hear was another synthesized horn and sudden crowd outburst. Tom Larscheid would go on for minutes about Forsberg essentially carrying Canuck defenders on his back as he drove to the net. As far as conflicting emotions go, how many people were torn when native son Joe Sakic lit up Vancouver Canuck goaltenders?

ap-3a0b6509fe544bb28323e397ce8ec1aa.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=69&yc=1&wc=303&hc=303&q=70&sig=fDxjGuYuFa7NQGvL.MvPYQ--Jeff Tambellini and Antii Miettinen have a meeting of the minds Monday at Rogers Arena (photo courtesy of Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Much has been made of the recent trades conducted by the Avalanche organization. Though the long-term jury is out on Erik Johnson, it sure doesn't look positive that the teams big slide has coincided with the blockbuster shipping Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis. In perhaps a "What have you done for me lately?" moment, 2010 playoff hero Craig Anderson was flipped for Ottawa's Brian Elliot. Along with David "The Swiss Miss" Aebischer, Peter Budaj, in Colorado, may you rest in peace Mr. Elliot.

Cory Schneider will get his 19th start of the season tonight against the Avs. Starter Roberto Luongo joked with reporters about the possibility of Schneider getting the prerequisite 25 games to qualify for Calder Trophy nomination. "I don't know what the plan is for the rest of the way. Maybe I'll pull myself from a couple of games. Obviously, whether he gets there (to 25 games) or not, he's very deserving."

d2ac8443c615a5585a07b53cf4370bb0-getty-102937951rl15_wild_canucks.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=92&yc=1&wc=478&hc=478&q=70&sig=ZCAwBN8XhpF6P3gUnhZhfQ--Dan Hamhuis chalks up another shot block as Ehrhoff and Luongo look on (photo courtesy of Rich Lam/Getty Images)

The Canucks were able to beat the Minnesota Wild Monday, but relied heavily on their League-leading special teams to get it done. Captain Henrik Sedin spoke about the win and reliance on a hot powerplay. "With the team and the guys and the depth we have, we aren't always going to have to play at 100 percent, but at the same time that's where we want to be." It appears the Captains example is being followed, right down to the foot soldiers. Re-invigorated from an All-Star break chat with line-mate Manny Malhotra and head coach Alain Vigneault, Raffi Torres spoke to Province reporter Jim Jamieson. "You don't want to go into the playoffs not playing well," he said. "You can't just turn the switch on. You want to be playing at the top level."

On the defensive front, the team is still without Kevin Bieksa, who broke his foot February 15th at Minnesota. But he must be closer to recovery, as he's back in the dressing room and having little verbal jousts with the media. It was suggested that either he or Sami Salo would be playing tonight. "Oh yeah?" Bieksa said sarcastically. "That's very presumptuous I don't know, I'm just a player. I'm not a writer or a GM. I don't know what's going on. I've still got a little ways to go," he said, about a week after he'd first hoped to return. Sami Salo will be a game-time decision, his elbow still a little numb after blocking a shot Monday.

With files from Getty Images and The Province, I'm Larenzo Jensen on The Canuck Way

Larenzo

With the uncertainty surrounding the Phoenix Coyotes and their ownership group, it almost seems like whatever happens on the ice for them is second page news.

In one of the oddest spectacles in pro sports, the Phoenix Coyotes fans in attendance (approx. 5000) Tuesday night in Glendale, Arizona, were seemingly matched in number by visiting Vancouver Canucks fans. The Jobbing.com arena had swaths of blue and teal jerseys sprinkled amidst the the maroon colored empty seats and Coyotes fans.

b6a8192325ee5214b4d15c01419411bd-getty-102978513cp017_vancouver_ca.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=106&yc=1&wc=449&hc=449&q=70&sig=BVXlwNLBtY8cAV.jQRae0Q-- In traditional "Burr" style, Dan Hamhuis gets a high five for his game winning goal (photos courtesy of Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Canucks exhibited a sense of urgency after falling behind 2-0 in the first period. On the ensuing shift, Dan Hamhuis wristed one past Ilya Bryzgalov from the bottom of the left faceoff circle after joining the cycle. "There was not much room in the offensive zone," recalled the Smithers, B.C. native. "When that happens, that opens things up for the defenceman to jump into the play."

The Canucks built up a 3-2 lead, with a fortuitous Sami Salo bank shot off defender Michal Rozsival in front. Coyotes coach Dave Tippett knows the importance of getting the right bounces in tight games. "We've had some bad breaks go against us," he lamented regarding the Rozsival deflection.

c8204e6496169acc1cf7cdae8faa7f24-getty-102978513cp023_vancouver_ca.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=110&yc=1&wc=442&hc=442&q=70&sig=U.4EGFpd1g4QVzaVycmr1Q-- Though their success has been limited in the past against Phoenix, the Sedins combined for 6 points Thursday

Knotted at three a piece at the end of regulation, the Canucks searched for offense quickly in the overtime session. Alex Burrows broke away from Eric Belanger, who reached inside with his stick, pulling on Burrows' right arm. Burrows was awarded a penalty shot, but was unable to tuck the puck short side backhand past a sprawled Bryzgalov.

Dan Hamhuis, who finished as the games' third star, was a +2 with 5 shots on goal in nearly 25 minutes of work. "Hank and Danny (Sedin), anytime they're circling around the puck, as a defenseman you try and get open for them," noted Hamhuis. "I was trying to find a spot to get open."

ap-9884ab345b3b49d19b39e4dd02e994df.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=71&yc=1&wc=300&hc=300&q=70&sig=L2E6ZuWga5a4dUZDlAffaA-- Alex Burrows slides into Ilya Bryzgalov after being hauled down by Eric Belanger in overtime, resulting in a penalty shot (photo courtesy of Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Canucks now continue their 5 game road trip in San Jose Thursday against the Sharks. Though the Canuck fan contingent won't be as numerous as they were in Anaheim, Los Angeles or Phoenix, they will undoubtedly be noticed. "It was unreal how many people were there," started astonished General Manager Mike Gillis. "The lower bowl all you saw were Canucks seaters. I know our players really appreciate it, our coaches really appreciate it, and I do. It's a remarkable thing."

With files from Yahoo!Sports and Getty Images, I'm Larenzo Jensen on the Canuck Way

Larenzo

Over the last twelve games, the Vancouver Canucks have managed to alternate wins and losses evenly.

In what has to be the strangest stetch of hockey in recent memory, the Canucks have hit a bit of a scoring drought. With around 17 games remaining for most teams, the Canucks are really feeling the squeeze from the more desperate style of hockey being played. Mikael Samuelsson confirmed it in comments made to Jason Botchford of the Province: "Say what you want, I will be surprised if we outwork any more teams this year. Everybody is in the playoff hunt and they are all fighting for their lives."

e9441ba7143ead42990659f25cb9fdf0-getty-102966291rl12_predators_canucks.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=99&yc=1&wc=463&hc=463&q=70&sig=x7BJ6teFCBTfD4yfVRM9jQ-- Roberto Luongo sprawls but can't quite stop Patric Hornqvist who was in alone on a turnover

Though nobody is pulling the panic switch just yet, the strange trend has many in 'Nucksville getting a little bit antsy. Closing out their season high 6-game homestand .500, the team could probably use this 5-game road trip to get their bearings.

The Canucks (40-16-9) kick off their California swing against the L.A. Kings (36-24-4) on Saturday. Los Angeles leads the season series 2-0, and offence could be tough to come by. The Kings are fresh off a 1-0 shutout of the Phoenix Coyotes, and are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.

96bd95c3a53c3f89c88097787ab5c1dc-getty-102966291rl18_predators_canucks.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=101&yc=1&wc=459&hc=459&q=70&sig=02i6A5onAZ8vtwW8iWKcxQ-- Pekka Rinne stopped this deflection by Daniel Sedin, and 28 other shots in a clean sheet (photos courtesy of Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Despite the loss, Henrik Sedin commented that the team "played it's best game in about 3 or 4 weeks,". The powerplay, which has gone 0 for 11 over the last three games, looked better tonight. But, as Sportsnet play by play analyst John Shorthouse pointed out, "it's the results that matter". The Philadelphia Flyers (86 pts, 2 games in hand) lost their second straight game, so didn't make up any ground on the league leading Canucks (89 pts). In the Western Conference, the Canucks hold a four point edge on the Red Wings, with San Jose (red hot -won last 8 games) trailing by seven points. The good news is, if the pattern from the last twelve games holds true, Vancouver should win at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Saturday.

ap-bad4bd393bce478fa1e7f53e4534f6ac.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=1&yc=1&wc=440&hc=440&q=70&sig=nZh6ywJ5qgnc7uvQ5nactA--

Shane O'Brien topples ex-teammate Mikael Samuelsson during third period Thursday at Rogers Arena

Larenzo

The February 28th trade deadline came and went, with the Vancouver Canucks adding without subtracting.

With the additions of Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre, the Canucks now find their forward ranks replete with depth and character. Roles once filled by Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows as agitating, shift disturbing defensive types, have been filled by Lapierre and Higgins. General Manager Mike Gillis added the two players without surrendering a roster player. Instead, he moved 3rd round picks to both the Anaheim Ducks and the Florida Panthers, as well as minor leaguers Joel Perrault and Evan Oberg. "I think we added experience and we added a little bit of a different element than we possess on this team currently."

2883.gif3520.gif New Canuck recruits, Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre

Higgins, though currently out of action with a broken thumb, is likely out another 10 games. Though he will debut on the fourth line, there is the opportunity for him to bump up to another line. Higgins, though with only 11 goals and 23 points this year with Florida, had three straight 20 goal years with the Canadiens. "It wasn't predicated on Mason's play at all. What we wanted to do was to strengthen in areas we didn't currently have," Gillis added.

Lapierre, who was brought in to center the fourth line between Tanner Glass and Jeff Tambellini, has worked under Alain Vigneault before. He played three seasons of junior hockey in Prince Edward Island, and he credits Vigneault with improving his play within a system. "He was in the NHL before he came to junior so he helped me a lot in my development when I was young and I'm glad to be back with him." He played 5:41 in his first game with the Canucks Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and was a minus one, with two penalty minutes.

ap-028dbeb37a784c08a7a21891c91d92c2.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=73&yc=1&wc=295&hc=295&q=70&sig=YzxVElDD8x5MEPaNEvG.kw-- Maxim Lapierre studied under Alain Vigneault for 3 years in Prince Edward Island

Lapierre and Higgins were teammates for three seasons in Montreal. "I have always been a pretty versatile player who can be used in a variety of different situations," Higgins explained. "I am just looking to build chemistry with whoever I am playing with in Vancouver. If I can score some goals, that would be great, but I am just looking forward to finding my niche on the team and being able to contribute every night."

ap-74fc3d44b90f4672ab5cccd8f83efbf4.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=1&yc=1&wc=440&hc=440&q=70&sig=kcuznnUpzY.eHj0qhG5Udw-- Canuck fans were head over heals for this boisterous hit on Jakub Voracek by Dan Hamhuis (photos courtesy of AP Photo)

As he quite often does, Alex Burrows added a little humor. In his response to having another Francophone joining the club, he quipped: "It's always good to add a few French Fry guys. There's too many Swedes in this dressing room." Of course, in our household, there's still only one "Little Frenchie". But we certainly are curious to see what dynamic the newest Canucks add.

Larenzo

"If It Ain't Broke..."

With less than a week until the NHL trade deadline, the Vancouver Canucks may flex their own no-trade clause.

This, amidst a market that has definitely set a post-lockout benchmark - 17 trades involving 35 players in the last dozen days. GM Mike Gillis doesn't deny they'll kick the tires on a fourth line center. "We've tried different things and it's not out of the realm. There's a possibility of something coming our way that we think can help us. Right now, my feeling is that it would be a very minor type of trade, if at all. I'm very confident in this group."

2848.jpg?x=65&y=85&xc=1&yc=1&wc=164&hc=215&q=100&sig=pT28TWHgZKWM2P4_BBJ89A--3108.jpg?x=65&y=85&xc=1&yc=1&wc=164&hc=215&q=100&sig=HbvTBxSn3sqaIsa0FAoJVA--

If all goes according to plan, both Ballard and Hamhuis will return to action this week

With some glimmers of hope surfacing that their defensive core will have injured players returning on Tuesday and Thursday, trade speculation has been quelled. It's expected Dan Hamhuis will return for duty against Montreal, while Ballard may return Thursday. Hamhuis surprised doctors with his quick recovery after suffering a concussion. "The young guys have been stepping up and it's good to know the depth in the organization because you never know what can happen in the playoffs." Recognizing how much they missed him (due to concussion), the Canucks are hoping that Hamhuis hasn't uttered some self-fulfilling prophecy.

ap-498b3905f717453985cf7441bee2ba5e.jpg

Mike Gillis added most of the pieces he felt necessary during Free Agency, including Torres, Malhotra, and Hamhuis

One interesting rumor that has surfaced pertains to Andrew Brunette, one of 5 Minnesota Wild players that become Unrestricted Free Agents. Should Minnesota fall off the pace during the next week, they might be interested in obtaining something for those players while they're still able.

But Gillis insists that the majority of the Canucks moves are during the start of Free Agency, and on draft day. "We went and made significant changes and were fortunate enough to get the players we wanted. I don't think anybody made a bigger trade at the draft than we did and I don't think anybody signed better free agents than we did."

Other names bandied about as a possible fourth line center are Andrew Murray (Columbus, $650,000), Marty Reasoner (Florida, $1.1m), and Zenon Konopka (New York Islanders, $600,000). While the salaries (the amount remaining) could be absorbed and still remain under the cap, money isn't the issue. Gillis emphasized team chemistry is of paramount concern. "You really run the risk when you like your team and they all like one another, play hard and hold each other accountable. It's a big risk making changes and I think we'll just wait and see how it goes."

In other words, it'll probably take another GM knocking Gillis' socks off with a trade offer to get something done before February 28th.

Larenzo

Feeling Manitoba

Canuck fans everywhere have begun to appreciate the unexpectedly deep pool of talent in Manitoba.

O.K. So they're not all recent Hobey Baker award recipients, nor do they threaten to have their names mentioned in the same breath as Orr, Lidstrom or Bourque. But, you realize the gravity of the situation when you're genuinely concerned for the well-being of Lee Sweatt's foot, or sending Alex Edler "Get Well Soon" cards (no, I didn't mail him one yet).

ap-b57a383d7dba4a8a97c3ca5f33a27d17.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=64&yc=1&wc=313&hc=313&q=70&sig=KcuztGYL0rq1efW8UzE.Sg-- Believe it or not, Chris Tanev actually got the better of Brad Staubitz on this play

With Andrew Alberts needing wrist injury, the Canucks have placed him on Long Term Injured Reserve (must be out a minimum of 10 games). The Canucks immediately receive cap relief (based on 1.05 million), while bringing up 20 year old Yann Suave, who is listed 12th on their defensive depth chart. Aaron Rome, 7th on that list, is logging top four minutes.

Other depth that recently graduated from Manitoba, Cory Schneider, has enhanced the Canucks depth. Slowly brought along through the organization, Schneider has nothing left to prove at the American Hockey League level.

ap-5a4c2595a515492e97c146533f4832c0.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=66&yc=1&wc=309&hc=309&q=70&sig=YYgc8MZ9ujW_xQBj1epZ1w--

After years of shopping in the Free Agent market for backup goaltenders, Vancouver finally grew one of their own. On pace to play the targeted 20 games this season, Schneider made 28 saves in Minnesota for an important victory. Playing 3 games in 4 nights, it is almost a certainty that 'Schneids' was pencilled in on the schedule. The Canucks recorded 14 shots, only one of those coming in the third period (Kesler's empty netter late). "We had a pretty gritty effort, not the prettiest one," Schneider recalled.

The Canucks (37-12-9) now focus their energy on a clash with the Nashville Predators (30-19-8) before returning home for a six game home-stand.

ap-ebac7001894c4cd1b790ea24d95d9795.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=71&yc=1&wc=300&hc=300&q=70&sig=ibCRFEHlN_E9C5dmGlL4LQ-- Aaron Rome, being pursued here by Martin Havlat, is now playing top four minutes (photo courtesy of AP Photo/ Canadian Press)

Larenzo

Resilient Sami Salo

Like a fighter that keeps getting knocked down, when you expect the next blow to put him down for the count, Sami Salo just won't stay down.

There's a reason why Sylvester Stallone's Italian Stallion character Rocky Balboa spawned a series of movies. That human spirit, that innate drive is what seemed so compelling about the character. Sure, Sami Salo doesn't compare well with Sylvester Stallone, save for they have similar initials. But his resiliency, his determination to get back to his feet, and to what end? Who's to say that he doesn't (knock on wood) have another tough injury befall him? One could argue that he's endured more pain during his NHL career than an average person does in a lifetime.

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Sports doctors alike agree that recovering from a torn Achilles tendon can be quite an ordeal for professional athletes. Sami is quick to direct credit for help during said recovery. "I think having the support of family and friends got me through that, and then coming over here, having a chance to go early on a road trip with the guys, even though I wasn't skating... those are the little things that give you a light at the end of the tunnel."

Salo's teammates are eager to have him back. "He is one of our favourites, that's for sure," said Burrows. "He's been around a long time, knows what it's all about and he's always been a really nice guy with the young guys - he was with me, when I came in, and things haven't changed."

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Salo plays tonight against the Calgary Flames, but has already played three games in a conditioning stint with the Manitoba Moose. He scored two goals the first game back since the injury. "I was a little nervous," Salo recalled. I wasn't sure how the leg would feel. It's not easy coming back when you've been out so long, and I think it might have been tougher to come back the first game here than there."

Even if the butterflies manifest themselves in Salo's stomach, and in turn his play, fans will have nothing but cheers for the unflappable, resilient Finn.

All Canucks, all the time. http://thecanuckway.com With files from The Vancouver Sun, I'm Larenzo Jensen

Larenzo

Duck Struck

After a 4-3 loss Wednesday night to the visiting Anaheim Ducks, the Vancouver Canucks have conceided 5 of 6 points in their season series.

Though their more than modest 6 game winning streak was snapped, more were concerned about the Canucks defensive depth. After a controversial hit by newly returned Ryan Getzlaf, Dan Hamhuis needed smelling salts to be brought around. His upper body hitting the glass quite hard, while apparently turning away from an oncoming Getzlaf, whose feet left the ice during the collision. "I was going in to make a play, and it's one of those things it happens in a game and I wish nothing but the best for him," replied Getzlaf. "Obviously I don't want to hurt anybody out there. I went in to make the play. I didn't leave my feet, I kept my shoulder down and he was just following through on a pass and it was an unfortunate accident."

ap-3f15d03cd2874e1a8c6f2b9874b51422.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=100&yc=1&wc=242&hc=242&q=70&sig=BCGW0Mq3GgOib1NjO_rq0A-- Dan Hamhuis falls to the ice after a check from Ryan Getzlaf in the third period Wednesday

Though video replay clearly shows that Getzlaf did in fact leave his feet, Coach Alain Vigneault took the expected high road. He said after the game Hamhuis had a big red mark on his forehead from being "plastered" into the glass, but appeared fine and was showing no signs of a concussion. "It's a physical game," added Vigneault, "We dump the puck in, forecheck, try and hit. It's part of the game."

ap-c7a355bf055d46db8951e5ddb92d549c.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=71&yc=1&wc=299&hc=299&q=70&sig=eo_3FKPkXOpHRFOlliJ9Sw-- Curtis McElhinney deflects the puck toward Andreas Lilja, and away from Jannik Hansen

The Hamhuis scare comes after losing Keith Ballard to a knee sprain after a slew-foot by Milan Michalek during Monday's contest with the Senators. Ballard is expected to be out of the lineup for 3-4 weeks. Ryan Kesler spoke to the gravity of the current situation. "I don't know the extent of the (Hamhuis) injury, but if he can't play, that's going to be tough to fill."

ap-84ccef8d83424de4b09e563555b009b7.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=14&yc=1&wc=413&hc=413&q=70&sig=X6eV.dkdSOxurQMIOmDEDA-- Kevin Bieksa turned his hip nicely into Bobby Ryan after he initialized the dump and chase (photos courtesy of AP Photo)

The good news for the Canucks is that Sami Salo returned to Vancouver Wednesday after a 3 game conditioning stint with the Manitoba Moose. Having recovered from his torn Achilles tendon injury, Salo is expected to suit up against the Flames on Saturday. One other potential line-up change might include winger Aaron Volpatti, who was seen leaving Roger's Arena with a bundle of sticks, usually indicative that the player is returning to their AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.

Larenzo

Desert Drubbing

Trivia questions: 1) What year was it when the Vancouver Canucks last lead the NHL standings? 2) Luongo's shutout was his third this season; how many career shutouts does he hold? (answers at bottom of blog)

Getting better every period versus the Phoenix Coyotes, the Canucks made it 4 straight wins, adding to their lead in the NHL standings.

ap-8ac0ad4e103f47ecbe319217368c0111.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=72&yc=1&wc=298&hc=298&q=70&sig=voK32._OWQlcqj1Tb8nu_Q-- Ryan Kesler paced the Canucks (as he often does) with 2 goals, totaling 30 so far this season

After suffering a 3-2 loss to the Coyotes in their only previous match-up earlier this season, Vancouver put an exclamation mark at the end of their short road trip. Though they've played one more game than the Philadelphia Flyers (71 pts), the Canucks now have 75 points through 52 games to lead the NHL standings. Roberto Luongo made 23 saves for the shutout, Ryan Kesler added two goals, while rookie Cody Hodgson scored in just his 2nd NHL game.

Responding to media criticism and trade rumors, Mikael Samuelsson and Mason Raymond helped their causes.ap-cd0a246c0f8b47b88940532e4dcb9323.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=81&yc=1&wc=279&hc=279&q=70&sig=qb5pN2lBBDVAZxiVZCEYMw--ap-e13b844d47024efc92a90e8456751a7c.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=66&yc=1&wc=309&hc=309&q=70&sig=3l_cYj6LSwDvadv20ROWYg--

Raymond tallied his 10th goal of the season, and added an assist. Samuelsson showed signs of yesteryear, leading all Canucks in shots (6), registering 2 assists in 16:35 of icetime. Jannik Hansen continued to reward Alain Vigneault's faith in him, with another excellent performance at both ends of the rink. He pounced on a rebound early in the second period, giving the Canucks a 2-0 lead, after which they never looked back.

Something that truly captured my attention was the break-neck speed at which the Canucks have been playing this season. The Coyotes, although not known to be the fastest team, looked displaced, and often exasperated by the Canucks team speed. More than any other season, the Canucks have flat-out had wings, particularly during their breakouts and counter-attacks. With an even more capable blueline this season, their first pass out of the zone is very quick, the puck not lingering on any players stick more than a couple of seconds.54d1e5e269f0b994a6cb242ba32fa784-getty-102843292cp023_vancouver_ca.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=106&yc=1&wc=449&hc=449&q=70&sig=M1.yyFGTJR3ZIo.WCdwuug-- Roberto Luongo looks up at Shane Doan after a left pad save in close (photos courtesy of Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The icing on the cake for the Canucks was witnessing Cody Hodgson's 1st NHL goal. Vigneault rewarded the center with nearly two minutes more icetime than his first outing. Jutting across the slot and releasing a wrister that beat Ilya Bryzgalov glove side. Fans are curious to see what further upside the 21 year old presents with 30 games remaining in the regular season. The 'Nucks now head home for a date with the hot Chicago Blackhawks (6-3-1 over last 10 games).

ee3cfb3d7c7090c8c69905b0b7bf1ccc-getty-102843292cp020_vancouver_ca.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=110&yc=1&wc=442&hc=442&q=70&sig=MOzmgHBbtDJgpeRnh66p0g-- Cody Hodgson was all smiles post-game, "Happy to get the first one out of the way"

Trivia answers: 1) Not since the West Coast Express played together (Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, Brendan Morrison) in 2003-04 have the Canucks lead the NHL standings. 2) Roberto Luongo's shutout of the Coyotes was the 54th of his career.

Larenzo

Earning a 4-1 win Tuesday night over the Dallas Stars, the Canucks made it three straight wins in convincing fashion over the Lone Star State.

Though it wasn't quite the 7-1 manhandling of the Stars last Monday, the Canucks proved that even without their top defenseman they're a Western Conference powerhouse. After representing Vancouver in Raleigh, Carolina, Ryan Kesler showed he hasn't missed a beat, scoring his second shorthanded goal of the season, and team-leading 28th. He also drew Adam Burrish into a penalty, which the Canucks capitalized on 8 seconds later with the man advantage. In fact, their special teams have feasted on the Stars so far this season, going 7 for 14 with the extra attacker.

ap-275f7af8aa344ac7b34c20563a649583.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=6&yc=1&wc=429&hc=429&q=70&sig=wpHK6q7dXah6ZDC6hFsAHA-- Cory Schneider fights through this Steve Ott screen to stop a shot from the faceoff dot

Jannik Hansen also had a strong game, anticipating the play well, with an effective forecheck. During a 2-on-1 with Kesler, he took Stephane Robidas wide on the left wing, then dished a cross-ice pass that Kesler one-timed over Kari Lehtonen.

Cory Schneider started the game, having excellent success this season at the American Airlines Center. Both he and Lehtonen faced 26 shots, but Schneider out-duelled his counterpart. It took a perfect shot from Loui Eriksson top shelf to beat him in the second period, but that was the only sniff he gave them. With sound positioning, he was in excellent position to see most of the shots directed at him.

ap-2008e1e7807142ccbca5969e6534d958.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=65&yc=1&wc=311&hc=311&q=70&sig=rDL7gEx3QT_5nwYfuzfm8w-- Stephane Robidas tries to cut off Hansen's pass to Kesler, but to no avail (photos courtesy of AP Photo/Canadian Press)

His lateral movement has been the largest improvement he's made this season under goaltending coach Roland Melanson. He pushed off his left post perfectly to meet a rising shot from Brad Richards in the slot, taking the puck high off his shoulder, then mask.

The game was also Cody Hodgson's first in the NHL, and he looked as comfortable as he could, though sporting a full face cage. He sustained a freak injury several weeks ago in practice, being hit in the face by a teammates' errant stick, breaking his orbital bone.

ap-bf2deae208094ca59471053b1eec2136.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=48&yc=1&wc=345&hc=345&q=70&sig=OppgGV4byOCFxXTg.wIBvQ-- Daniel Sedin gets tripped up by fellow Swede Niklas Grossman during third period action

Though skating on the fourth line with Tanner Glass and Raffi Torres, Hodgson amassed nearly 10 minutes of icetime. He didn't look out of place at all, unrelenting while keeping the Stars defence on their heels as he forechecked. He went to the net often, and was nearly rewarded as he received a pass in tight on Lehtonen. Lehtonen just barely managed to get his stick down on the ice as Hodgson tried to wheel around from his backhand to forehand. As noted before on the Canuck Way, Hodgson looks like he's worth the wait.

Speaking of waits, Canucks fans won't have much of one for the next game, as they're en route to Arizona for a tilt with the Coyotes tonight. They'll be looking to avenge a 3-2 loss in their last meeting.

Larenzo

After reporting back spasms during the game against the Dallas Stars, Alexander Edler will undergo microdiscectomy surgery.

It seems every season, the Vancouver Canucks receive some bad news regarding members of their defense corps. As a matter of fact, the Canucks might want to find ways to keep their top defensemen from accompanying them to games during January. Last season, you might recall a January 15, 2010 game versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was then that shutdown defender Willie Mitchell was lost, not just for the remainder of the regular season, but for both playoff series as well. Hit from behind by Evgeni Malkin (with no discipline from the NHL), the Canucks would have to scrape the barrel for defensive help. This January brings further bad tidings, though some claim there are glimmers of hope in Edler's situation.ap-84143f96d91a4aa7b5937220414ad936.jpg

Gritty Edler showed no signs of back spasms sustained against the Stars, finishing his checks as well as the game

Dr. Marcel Dvorak will be undertaking Alex's surgery on Monday. He is the same doctor that performed surgery on Daniel Sedin after the 2001 world hockey championships in Germany. "When you have someone who is a very motivated, highly functioning individual who is apt to be to determined to recover as quickly as possible, the outcomes for such people tend to be very much better than for others." He was quick to point out that someone with lower activity levels might recover in six to eight weeks, but usually is longer for athletes. "It is possible that someone could return to play after a disc operation in eight to 10 weeks, although the outcomes are different for every individual.

cf4d6388914ac43d0079c198cf75e079-getty-102880011rl17_predators_canucks.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=1&yc=1&wc=660&hc=660&q=70&sig=CZFSKK8MDYUm_IOXGo6W7w-- Lee Sweatt is all smiles after his first NHL goal (photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

During call-ins to the Team 1040 radio, fans bemoaned the fact that Edler was in the midst of a break-out campaign, even scoring twice the night he was injured. The difference between Edler's injury and Mitchell's a year previous, is that at least there is a general timeline. This in itself should give Edler's supporters some hope. Dr. Dvorak continued. "When Daniel came back he had a foot drop and a profound level of weakness, but I'm not sure how long he took to recover. I don't remember him missing any time the following training camp, but that was all summer. But there again you had a very determined, bright young class act who was totally focused on getting back and I suspect Alex will be a similar individual, at least from what I've seen."

8604.gif East York, Ont. native Chris Tanev was noticeable in pre-season action, and has acquitted himself nicely

With Sami Salo reportedly getting closer to returning for the Vancouver Canucks, one can't help but marvel at the way Lawrence Gilpin has successfully negotiated the Canucks salary cap issues. Many were convinced that Vancouver would have to make a deal to ship out some salary to make room for Salo's return. Based on Dr. Dvorak's estimates, Edler could be back, if not for the start of the playoffs, then shortly thereafter.

Regardless of what transpires, the Canucks will face a transition period here, learning to adapt without their top defenseman. Edler accumulated 8 goals and 32 points through 49 games, and lead the team icetime, averaging 24:23 a game. Chris Tanev probably never imagined that he'd get such a long audition with the big club. But the Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year is putting together a fairly impressive debut. Fellow call-up Lee Sweatt, after scoring his first NHL goal (and game-winner) versus the Predators, also hopes to make the most of his time in the limelight. On the Canucks blue-line, it would appear, those opportunities are available from January through spring.

Larenzo

Wednesday's match-up with the Nashville Predators highlights the two very different paths that both the Canucks and Predators have taken in the NHL.

One of the NHL's longest serving coaches, Barry Trotz, has done a lot with a little. The Nashville Predators, with the 8th stingiest payroll in the league, have essentially taken a page from the Minnesota Wild playbook.

ap-97081bf4fe884053a65e062ab99d6333.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=50&yc=1&wc=342&hc=342&q=70&sig=_pb1pclWIo78ZDbx4C3_TQ-- Henrik Sedin collides with Krys Barch and James Neal during third period action Monday (photos courtesy of Canadian Press/ Darryl Dyck)

They ice a team rife with defensive talent, much of which they've shrewdly drafted, and instituted a tight, smothering defensive style. Oh, and they have also been dynamite drafting goaltenders as well, picking up Pekka Rinne (9-2-0, 1.62 GAA last 11 games) 254th (8th round) overall in 2004, and fellow Finn Anders Lindback (10-4-2, .915 Sv %) 207th overall in 2008. We're not sure what they're feeding them over there, but both are towering - Rinne at 6'5, Lindback is 6'6. They cover a LOT of the 4x6 net behind them; Rinne is slated to start against the Canucks.

ap-413a6c62912e4ac1b17d89e72912959b.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=5&yc=1&wc=432&hc=432&q=70&sig=v4nXY22gyXZoGdmnx5cx4Q-- Aaron Volpatti celebrates an assist on Henrik Sedin's tally after finding Sedin streaking to the net

Canuck fans recall an era in the not so distant past when defensive hockey was the credo, with Roberto Luongo tethering the teams' hopes of success. This during a time when the Sedins and Kesler were still coming into their own as offensive stalwarts, on the cusp of being elite talents. If you can't score a lot of goals, you better not allow very many, which has indeed been the focus of the Nashville Predators for several seasons now. Though they're not unique in this aspect, the fact that defenseman Shea Weber (Sicamous, B.C.) is their leading point producer this season (8 goals, 21 assists for 29 pts) speaks volumes. Nashville snuck out of the deep 2003 draft with another heist, nabbing Weber with the 49th pick, and is widely considered the best player on the team.

ap-d14ec7ce0384488cb7c0288950877ffd.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=62&yc=1&wc=317&hc=317&q=70&sig=4HaUlqG6PoDOndx3ZaM2wg-- Ryan Kesler tips a puck past Kari Lehtonen, marking a career high in goals [27] (photo courtesy of Canadian Press/ Darryl Dyck)

All indications are that this will be another tight, close-checking affair. The teams have identical goals against averages, 2.35, though the Canucks definitely have the offensive edge coming in, scoring 3.29 goals a game (3rd). The Predators are 23rd at 2.59 goals for per game. But where it counts most, in the standings, the Preds are 4th in the Western Conference with 60 points, and are a good bet to make the playoffs. That being said, the San Jose Sharks and the Minnesota Wild only trail by 5 points, so they certainly aren't a lock. Only Boston (111) and Pittsburgh (114) have allowed fewer goals than Nashville (117).

With the Canucks coming off a seven goal outburst against the Dallas Stars, it will be interesting to see how they adjust to the difference in style. Defensively, Vancouver had a very strong outing, feeding off the counter-attack, and generating offense from odd-man situations.

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Last season, the Canucks and Predators played four times, splitting the season series 2-2. Wednesday's match-up is their first of the season, and they will play 3 more times following the All-Star Break (which is 5 days for Vancouver). The Canucks should have a decided personnel advantage, as the Predators are without several key players. Wingers J.P. Dumont (neck), Steve Sullivan (upper body), and forwards Marek Svatos (knee) and Matt Lombardi (concussion) are all side-lined due to injury. With a victory, the Canucks would pull even with the Philadelphia Flyers for most points (71) in the NHL, though with fewer wins.

Following the Vegas/Bodog.com line favorites to win the Stanley Cup (9/2), I'm Larenzo Jensen with files from the Canadian Press and CanucksHD

Larenzo

Kesler: Ascension

Trivia question: When was the last time the Vancouver Canucks had two of the top 5 goalscorers in the NHL?

Answer: 2002/03 Markus Naslund leads the Canucks with 48 goals, closely followed by Todd Bertuzzi with 46 goals. Currently, Daniel Sedin sits third with 27 goals, and Ryan Kesler's 25 have him tied with Chicago's Patrick Sharp for fourth.

928e6a141435ef6815194620590a713b-getty-102982596dp016_vancouver_ca.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=110&yc=1&wc=441&hc=441&q=70&sig=ME2Ootn6hlSxQiN1Xgspbw-- Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin challenge Adam Foote for the puck, and the NHL for the scoring title

Part of the storyline that fascinates me, if we continue the Naslund/Bertuzzi comparison, are the different player profiles. Almost everything about the way these Canuck goalscorers evolved is different. Yet, there are undeniable similarities for the goalscorers named. Whereas Naslund and Bertuzzi formed part of the 'West Coast Express', Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler have only started to play together, almost strictly on the power play. Even with Alex Burrows on the mend from shoulder surgery to start the season, head coach Alain Vigneault opted to use others in combination with twins Daniel and Henrik.

8d2d49a16ab23aa52290f65dcf1802e5-getty-102982596dp015_vancouver_ca.jpg?x=130&y=130&xc=110&yc=1&wc=441&hc=441&q=70&sig=g1sMWxN8eIFWv5LJsgu34Q-- NHL goaltenders - seeing a lot of Ryan Kesler, and so will All-Star game fans in Carolina (photos courtesy of Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Opinions will vary on the following train of thought, but again, it's the differences that add intrigue. Markus Naslund and Daniel Sedin draw correlations outside of being Swedes. Their torrid goalscoring pace and ability naturally puts them in elite company, and for lack of a better term, let's deem them snipers. Todd Bertuzzi, at the height of his NHL success was a dominating power forward. The Sudbury, Ontario native was as feared for his powerful drives to the net as he was his soft hands in alone on goaltenders. So, that leaves Ryan Kesler. How do we classify what he is?

The difficulty defining him is that he is still evolving. Early in his career, many had Kesler pegged as a perpetual checker, a career third line grinder. Little did they know that there were several other faces yet to be revealed. This is where the story of Bertuzzi and Kesler run parallel for awhile. Both players were drafted in the first round, exactly at the same position (23rd overall) and exactly 10 years apart. The New York Islanders grew impatient with Bertuzzi's rate of development 0943.gif3513.gif and he was packaged with Bryan McCabe and a 3rd round pick (Jarkko Ruutu) in the infamous Trevor Linden deal. Kesler was drafted by the Canucks in 2003 (1st round, 23rd overall) and took a more linear route from the Canucks farm club, the Manitoba Moose. But, just like Bertuzzi, five years after being drafted, really hit his offensive stride. In 1999/00, Bertuzzi hit the 50 point plateau with 25 goals, 25 assists. In 2008/09, Kesler accumulated 59 points with 26 goals, 33 assists. But prior to his breakout campaign, Bertuzzi wasn't recognized for any particular aspect in his game.

With his very savvy defensive intuition and elite two way ability, Ryan Kesler is an annual threat to win the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) award. This season, there are rumblings that his name could be added to the Hart Trophy nominees list. Herein lies the difficulty to put a stamp on his game or title. Were Kesler to be nominated, let alone win, it would put him into some distinguished company. It also makes me wonder if he has any other transformations yet to be revealed. Whatever transpires, he's simply the most complete player the Vancouver Canucks have ever drafted. Whether he wins hardware at the end of the season or not, his value to the team has become immeasurable. Some hockey analysts are referencing Kesler as the "Soul of the team", a moniker not undeserved by this inspiring, gifted young star.

The Kicker: 2002/03 - Todd Bertuzzi's career season (46 goals, 51 assists - 97 pts) helped the Canucks finish near the top of the NHL. This lands them the 23rd overall pick, which would be used to call Kesler's name. For once, the draft hockey gods smile upon the Canucks and their late first pick, giving hockey one of it's deepest drafts ever.

Larenzo Jensen, with files from TSN and Getty Images

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