In descending order of post-season importance and intrigue, the microscope will focus on Cory Schneider, Roberto Luongo, Ryan Kesler, Derek Roy, Chris Higgins, Mason Raymond, Kevin Bieksa and even wild card Zack Kassian.
How about Alex Burrows?
As much as the Vancouver Canucks winger plays a prominent role on the top line, first power-play unit and first penalty-killing pairing with Kesler, he can also play into the minds of the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference quarterfinal series because Burrows has the gift of gab that’s usually accompanied by an occasional jab.
The edge that he brings gets him to the crease to set picks and screens and accept the hacks and whacks to perhaps tip home a key goal.
Burrows will always be remembered for his dramatic double-overtime opening-series winner in 2011 — an epic, emotional and roster-saving seven-game triumph over the defending Stanley Cup champions and arch-rival Chicago Blackhawks.
And his overtime wrap-around winner to give the Canucks a 2-0 championship series lead on the Boston Bruins that same spring spoke of grit and determination and his value as a complete player. His detractors prefer to think of Burrows as a diver and biter and, well, whatever.
However, the fine line that Burrows must skate now against the Sharks has never been thinner. His 27 minor penalties in the shortened 48-game regular season shared the highest total heading into Sunday play.
And you can probably count on one hand how many infractions Burrows drew, because there’s some reality to the perception that he’s a marked man, that’s he’s never going to get a break — even though the Stephane Auger Affair was more than three years ago.
But the tiff between Alain Vigneault and Kelly Sutherland over a key bench minor to the coach for contesting a non-call in Calgary last month is relatively fresh in the memory banks. So the Canucks must feel somewhat targeted. Burrows, too.
“Not really,” he said in an attempt at diplomacy. “I think it’s a tough job and some (calls) are going to go your way and some are going to go against you. They all even out at the end of the day.”
Well, not really. The very nature of his game will always afford Burrows some extra attention, and he got a lot of it this season. Then again, what do you expect? David Backes was assessed 26 minors because the big St. Louis Blues captain sets a physical tone, yet responded with 28 points (6-22) and a plus-5 rating. Burrows had 24 points (13-11) and was a plus-15. They can’t play passively, but they can’t be a lightning rod to attract the ire of referees.
“I took a lot of penalties this year and obviously I’d like to cut them down and make sure I stay out of the box,” added Burrows.
“But at the same time, when the twins (Sedins) get abused, I’ve gone in there and got a few double minors. It’s part of the game and I just have to make sure I’m smart about it. Especially in the playoffs. Teams are going to try to get me off my game and I just have to make sure I let them go to the box.”