VANCOUVER — As one door of the Vancouver Canucks’ infirmary opened this week to release Ryan Kesler, another closed on left-winger Chris Higgins and defenceman Chris Tanev.
The latter two were declared “out indefinitely” by head coach Alain Vigneault after neither skated at practice Tuesday, putting their participation in the opening playoff round in question. The post-season is scheduled to begin in three weeks.
Tanev, injured Saturday against the Calgary Flames, was later seen leaving Rogers Arena with a walking boot on his right foot and crutches in his hands. Higgins has an apparent knee sprain even though he played extremely well Monday night against the Phoenix Coyotes and was on the ice in the last minute of third period.
The Canucks depart Wednesday on a five-game road trip that begins that night in Calgary (6:30 p.m., Sportsnet Pacific, Team 1040).
“Both Chrises, Tanev and Higgins — and I’m getting myself in playoff mode here — are lower body and are not going with us on the trip,” a solemn Vigneault said.
Tanev was hurt when hit by Flames’ fourth-liner Tim Jackman in the first period of Saturday’s game. He left the ice, and the bench, favouring his right leg but returned for the final two periods. Tanev did not skate Monday and was originally listed as day-to-day. Obviously that has changed.
Asked about Tanev returning for the playoffs, Vigneault replied: “Not quite sure yet.”
Dale Weise, normally a right-winger, will slide into Higgins’ spot alongside Derek Roy and Jannik Hansen. Keith Ballard, who moved into Tanev’s right-side role Monday against Phoenix, will almost certainly remain there.
TROPHY TALK: With four goose-eggs in his last nine starts, Cory Schneider has rocketed into contention for the Vezina Trophy. Based on Tuesday’s stats, the Canucks netminder was tied for first in shutouts with five, tied for second in save percentage at .928 and stood sixth in goals against average at .206. He’ll make his 12th straight start Wednesday against the Flames.
“I haven’t really put a lot of thought into it,” Schneider said of the Vezina talk. “There are so many great goalies in this league. If you look at the save percentage and goals against, there are five or 10 guys right there at the top. It’s one of those years where guys who get hot for 20-30 games have a chance to win it. There is still a lot of hockey left and a lot can change.”
Schneider did concede that being in the Vezina conversation is a pleasant development.
“It’s flattering,” he nodded. “But I think it’s just a testament to the way we’ve played as a group and as a unit. My teammates have given me a chance to have some success.”
The Canucks are on a 9-2-0 run but have lost their last two on the road. Schneider wants that to change. He lasted just two minutes and two goals in Edmonton in a 4-0 defeat, followed by three against San Jose in a 3-2 setback. Overall, the Canucks are 9-6-3 away from the friendly confines.
“We’re a team that takes a lot of pride in our road game and our last two were not very Canuck-like,” Schneider said. “I think we’re looking to start this road trip off well and get back to that style of play that makes us successful.”
Following the Calgary game, the Canucks play Saturday in Colorado, Monday in Nashville, Tuesday in St. Louis and Thursday in Dallas.
FLYIN’ RYAN: Centre Ryan Kesler emerged from Monday’s contest, his first in six weeks, without any residual effects. He had missed the previous 19 games due to his fractured right foot.
“Just general soreness,” Kesler reported. “Nothing out of the ordinary, so that’s a good sign.”
Kesler saw 15:51 of ice in the 2-0 victory over Phoenix. He scored the winner, had four shots on goal, eight shots directed on goal, three hits and went 9-for-14 on the draw, including 8-for-10 in the final two periods.
“It was just little timing things,” he said of his dramatic faceoff improvement throughout the night. “I kind of settled in during the second period and felt good the rest of the game.”
The Canucks desperately need his work in the circle as they were ranked 28th in the league Tuesday.
QUOTABLE: “I will have no problem doing that.” — Hulking Canucks winger Zack Kassian, when asked if he might have to “protect” his new linemate Ryan Kesler, whose feisty style often draws a reaction from the opposition.