VANCOUVER – Vancouver Canuck head coach Alain Vigneault seemed to sum up everyone’s mood Saturday after another practice and another day without a game.
“I think we are ready,” said the coach. “And I’m pretty sure you are, too.”
The ‘you’ referred to reporters in his presence but it could have applied to all and sundry following the Canucks’ opening-round playoff series against the L.A. Kings.
Los Angeles leads the best-of-seven 3-1. Game 5 goes Sunday at Rogers Arena at 5 p.m. The Canucks, who were down 0-3 in the series before Wednesday’s season-saving 3-1 victory, will again try to avoid an early exit from the Stanley Cup tournament.
“We know what’s at stake here,” understated Vigneault. “We know we have to be better than we were the last game. We have to come out better and handle the moment better and I’m very confident that this group can do that. We didn’t handle that first period [Wednesday] the way we should have and I think we’ve learned from that because, in the second period, and especially in the third, we were a really good hockey team. That’s what we’re going to put on the ice tomorrow night.”
Vigneault has stated in the past that he can rationalize any situation and did that again Saturday in discussing the unusual three-day break mid-series. (Rogers Arena was booked both Friday and Saturday for Coldplay concerts.)
“I think the extra days have been really important,” he explained. “It enabled us to get some good practice time to work on a few aspects of our game that we need to do better against the Kings. So, maybe for our group, this long break where you just play one game in one week, which you don’t normally see in the playoffs, will have some benefits. We’ll find that out tomorrow.”
Cory Schneider, who has supplanted Roberto Luongo between the Canuck pipes, will make his third straight start. Prior to Saturday’s slate of games, he was leading all playoff goaltenders in save percentage (.969) and goals against average (1.02). He also stopped Dustin Brown on a penalty shot in Wednesday’s third period with the Canucks clinging to a 2-1 lead.
“At this point, we need guys to become clutch performers and we got that from Schneids and a couple of other guys last game,” Vigneault noted. “Obviously if we want our season to continue, we’re going to need more guys doing that.”
Schneider, 26, is raring to go.
“It’s been three long days and I think we are all eager to get back at it,” he said. “I don’t know what the break is going to do with the momentum or the carryover from the last few games. I think we’ve had a couple of good practices and guys are feeling good and we’re excited to get back here on home ice and try to keep the series alive.
“I think every team believes it can come back from being down 3-0 but the odds are that not many do. You try to draw on experience from within your own room and use other people as an example that it’s been done.”
It’s been done only three times in NHL history, most recently two years ago by the Philadelphia Flyers against the Boston Bruins. It was also accomplished eight years ago in baseball by Schneider’s beloved Boston Red Sox, who came back on the mighty New York Yankees.
“Right now, we just want to worry about winning one game and you never know what can happen after that,” Schneider concluded.
Based on the last two practices, Vigneault will make one lineup change, inserting Dale Weise on the fourth line in place of rookie Zack Kassian. Wesie will skate alongside centre Manny Malhotra and demoted left winger Mason Raymond. The Canuck coach is seeking a counter-punch to the Kings’ effective fourth line of Colin Fraser, Brad Richardson and Jordan Nolan, which drew penalties and hemmed the Canucks in their zone on a number of shifts.
“The Kings’ fourth line has been good and spent some quality time in our zone and we need to have a better response,” Vigneault said. “I’m hoping that maybe by making those adjustments we will have a better response.”
Vancouver’s other three lines will look like this: Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-David Booth; Alex Burrows-Ryan Kesler-Max Lapierre; and Chris Higgins-Sammy Pahlsson-Jannik Hansen. For the twins, this will be only their second game with Booth as their right winger.
“We were down 3-0 so you have to try something and it worked,” Henrik said. “It felt really good playing with David and I think Burr and Kess have shown in the past they can play together. David is very strong and he did a great job holding onto pucks. He made it easy for me and Danny and gave us time to get to openings. Maybe they overplayed him a little bit and it opened up more room. I’m sure the Kings are going to try something [to check them] but I think, if we’re on our game, we’re tough to play against.”
The Canucks’ practice Saturday at UBC was a brief one, barely more than 30 minutes. They did work on their power play, now 2-for-17 in the series, with Dan Hamhuis manning the point on the first unit alongside Alex Edler. The twins and Kesler were up front. The second unit featured Higgins, Booth, Burrows with Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa on the points. Bieksa was back on the ice after being given a ‘maintenance day’ Friday.
ICE CHIPS: Kevin Bieksa is leading the Canucks in ice time in the series with an average of 24:54. Dan Hamhuis is next at 24:16. Kings defenceman Drew Doughty leads all players in the series with 26:50… Bieksa, Alex Burrows and Mason Raymond lead the Canucks in shots on goal with 16 apiece while Kings captain Dustin Brown leads everyone with 22.