Category archive: Vancouver Canucks

Well, the good news for the Vancouver Canucks is Roberto Luongo's 12-year, $64 million contract extension kicks in next season, when he'll be earning a front-loaded $10 million salary.

Oh my.

Twelve months to the very day Luongo was torched for seven goals in Vancouver's stunning exit in Chicago, the Blackhawks were generous enough to travel two time zones and deliver the nightmare right at GM Place on Tuesday night.

Groundhog Day, anyone?

"Kept it under seven goals, so an improvement was made," Luongo told reporters in his postgame scrum, trying to find some levity in the situation.

I give him credit for facing the music right after the game, but it doesn't erase what happened on the ice.

The 5-1 victory Tuesday night again ended the Canucks' second-round series in six games; but this time you got the feeling the Blackhawks have stepped into the elite group of NHL contenders while the Canucks are stuck in the B group, a veteran team deservedly defeated for two straight postseasons by a younger team on the rise.

To be fair, Vancouver's blue-line corps was beaten up, a fact that can't go unsaid. But still, by the time Dustin Byfuglien put a shot past Luongo to make it 5-1, the story was about Luongo and nobody else. In three home games in this series, the Canucks' captain and franchise player gave up 16 goals. Unacceptable (and somewhat befuddling, really, given Luongo's solid performances at the United Center).

There's an Olympic gold medal in Luongo's 2009-10 season, but you have to think his lasting memory will be the Hawks filling the back of his net for a second spring in a row. The mock cheer he got from the GM Place faithful when he stopped a puck late in the third period? That's gotta hurt.

Luongo told us just how much he wanted to erase May 11, 2009, from his memory and came into this season motivated by that. Instead, he only added to his misery.

All of which will continue to dog Luongo's reputation as a player who has won nothing in the playoffs. Moving forward, how do Canucks fans feel about being on the hook for 12 more years of his deal? There will be a lot of soul-searching in Vancouver this summer.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, deservedly move on to the Western Conference finals for a second straight season, and this time, they won't be the wide-eyed new kids on the block. Instead, this is a team that found its A-game after playing .500 hockey for much of the second half of the season.

They've got four forward lines rolling like nobody's business, and just when you think you might have Jonathan Toews' top line bottled up for a few minutes, Kris Versteeg or Dave Bolland or Patrick Sharp or, yes, that guy Marian Hossa comes along and pots one before you can catch your breath.

It's a relentless attack that only finds ways to beat itself when it's too impatient to wait for its chances. Otherwise, you're looking at the most dangerous offense in the NHL right now.

More importantly, the Hawks have quieted their goalie questions. Rookie Antti Niemi outplayed Luongo in the second round and gave the Hawks more than enough in net. Chicago doesn't need Niemi to steal a game, it just needs the rookie not to blow one. Sound familiar? It worked for Detroit for the past 15 years.

Up next is what should be a dynamite conference finals between San Jose and Chicago, two teams capable of a high-end pace that should blow our socks off. Can't wait.

CHICAGO -- Canucks blueliner Shane O'Brien needed six stitches to fix a bloody gash he took after being high-sticked by Hawks forward Dustin Byfuglien in the second period.

"I know my mom will be probably calling me, making me wear a visor," said O'Brien. "Sorry Mom, on Mother's Day, to scare you like that, but I'm OK."

He didn't even miss a shift.

"I was a little surprised there was no penalty," he said, looking a little beat up around the bridge of his nose. "I was hoping I could still be an underwear model after my career. I think I'll be OK."

Too pretty

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville would have liked his team to chip more pucks past the Canucks' defensive approach instead of trying to force plays.

"I think we were looking for more than what was out there. I think we were looking for pretty plays instead of simplicity," said Quenneville.

But he disagreed when asked if he thought his players thought clinching the series might be easy Sunday night.

"No, I think our approach was fine during the day, going into the game," said Quenneville. "I think we were playing like we had to win this game. We got zapped off the bat and didn't respond well after that. We had excitement in the building we didn't take advantage of."

Canucks' character

The Canucks showed some resolve in avoiding elimination, especially after two porous home games. But blueliner Kevin Bieksa said his team's character should not be in question.

"There's obviously a lot, I don't think anybody ever doubted that part," he said. "I don't think anybody [expected us] to come in here and just fold our chairs."

Bieksa thought Christian Ehrhoff's opening goal just 59 seconds into the game was important.

"Especially on the road, the first goal is huge, it quiets the crowd," said Bieksa, who scored twice. "It gives a little bit of momentum to us and then we can sit back and play our game, which is high-percentage."

Luongo solid

Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo was terrific in Game 5. He stopped 29 of 30 shots and his rebound control was particularly sharp.

"I was fighting to see through the traffic there and was able to gobble them up," said Luongo. "They were coming to me and I was able to get gloves on it."

Luongo's 10 saves in the first period calmed his team down.

"I knew it was going to be important to have a good first period, make a couple of key saves," said Luongo. "I was able to do that and we scored a couple of goals, and that helped us get off to the start we wanted."

CHICAGO -- There was quite the buzz in the Blackhawks' dressing room Sunday morning revolving around Detroit's second-round departure in the playoffs.

Somehow, the boys from Chicago always figured they'd have to eventually get past Detroit if they wanted to reach the Stanley Cup finals.

Not so.

"I just thought it was kind of a destiny thing that we would eventually play them again," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said after Sunday's morning skate. "I mean, we've still got lots of work left here, starting with a big game tonight. This series is far from over. But it's weird to see the Wings go down. I think [Sharks coach Todd] McLellan said it best, it's not necessarily a changing of the guard yet. But it's exciting to see someone else have some success."

Andrew Ladd said he's got tremendous respect for the Wings' accomplishments, but "I'm not going to say it's sad to see them lose," he said with a smile.

Ladd said the Sharks, in his mind, have brought their game to another level they haven't been in the past.

"I don't know if it's a surprise, everyone always knew they had the talent to do it," said Ladd. "They just needed to take that next step and watching last night, I think they've done that."

Playoff hair

As we were standing around talking to Toews on Sunday morning, we couldn't help but notice a unique beard that's filling out on the bottom of his chin from ear to ear, but not above. It's some sort of underneath beard.

"The Wolverine," Toews clarified, referencing the Marvel comic character.

"It's better than last year, that's for sure," fellow star linemate Patrick Kane said of Toews' facial hair. "Last year, he just had the [lamb] chops."

Toews said it beat that trashy mullet sported by Kane.

"He's jealous," Kane said, looking over at Toews and shaking his head. "That's like [Kris] Versteeg. He had his beard and he saw my mullet, so he wanted more attention and started putting 'Just For Men' in his beard. He still can't get any attention, so he's mad at me, too."

So, just how does a young man like Kane go into a hair dressers' shop and ask for an '80s-style mullet?

"I asked him for the Billy Ray Cyrus with a touch of Vanilla Ice on the sides," laughed Kane. "I might grow it into a full-blown [Jaromir] Jagr."

CHICAGO -- Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is notorious for his quick trigger-finger when it comes to changing forward lines after a loss. But they were the same as Game 1, at least at Monday morning's pregame skate.

"We'll see, we could make some changes," he said after the session.

Quenneville chose not to practice his players Sunday, so it was all hands on deck at the morning skate.

"I like the approach today, a very businesslike skate this morning," said the Hawks coach. "The focus is in the right areas and the guys have always responded to challenges."

Quenneville addressed his players late in the practice. A pep talk?

"He does that every day, nothing really new," said Hawks star Patrick Kane. "Just talked about the game tonight and make sure we come prepared and get this building going. That's what we want to do."

Getting to Luongo

The motto in the Hawks' dressing room going into Game 2 is Roberto Luongo's life must get miserable ... as in, let's bump the guy a little more.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has heard the talk, but knows the officials will be on top of it, as they have been all season.

"I think the refereeing has been fine throughout the season and the playoffs," said Vigneault. "There was an emphasis made on that prior to the season, that they were going to do the best they could to protect the goaltenders and we expect that to continue. Obviously, we have to do a good job in front of Roberto so that he can see the shots. Usually what he can see, he stops."

Got to have Hart

Let's be honest, Henrik Sedin would have never received a Hart Trophy nomination if it wasn't for brother Daniel getting injured early in the season and allowing his brother the chance to prove he can produce alone.

"Yeah, which is strange because [Nicklas] Backstrom in Washington, it's not the same questions [from the media] even though he has the same amount of points [as Alex Ovechkin]," Henrik said Monday. "That's the way it is. We're twins and we're treated that way. There are both pluses and minuses to it."

The fact people keep asking Henrik how he was able to produce without his brother has obviously touched a nerve.

"That wouldn't be a question if we weren't twins. If [Jonathan] Toews was out, I don't think you're asking Kane those questions."

You know what? That's a pretty good point by Sedin.

Samuelsson keeping tabs

Former Red Wings player Mikael Samuelsson is keeping a close eye on his former team. We asked him if he was surprised Detroit was down 2-0 to San Jose.

"They had a couple of bad breaks, I would say, with penalties and stuff like that," Samuelsson said Monday. "That can happen. But I think they will give the Sharks a good series."

Samuelsson said he likes to watch as much playoff hockey as possible, not just Detroit.

"It's always good to watch other teams. If we succeed here, you have to play those guys [San Jose or Detroit]. But I always watch other games. I like it. It's relaxing, actually, on a day off like yesterday."

Four lines

The Canucks, for the most part, rolled three forward lines in the first round against Los Angeles, but that's going to be a dangerous play in this series with the Blackhawks, who spread it out pretty evenly over four lines. The danger for Vancouver is seeing its top three lines fatigued by the end of the series.

"Because of [Chicago's] skill set and because of their tempo and their transition, we have to play four lines," said Vigneault. "They're such a high-paced team that if you want to follow that pace, you got to roll your six D'ss and roll your four lines, and we were able to do that fairly well in the first game and hopefully we'll be able to do that again tonight."

The UC crowd

There are few better crowds in hockey than at the United Center, and the Blackhawks hope to use that energy this time around tonight.

"You have to take advantage of the crowd and the enthusiasm, and at the same time, we have to be smart how we play," said Quenneville. "But we're looking for an energized start tonight."

Thing is, the Canucks' players get a kick out of the national anthem, as well.

"You have to treat it as yourself getting pumped up, too. It's a great crowd to play in front of," Henrik Sedin said. "The national anthem is great a feeling to be out there. That's the way you have to treat it; you can't let it bother you."

Added Canucks forward Kyle Wellwood regarding the anthem: "Certainly gets your blood flowing. I'm not American, but whenever the crowd gets going like that, you definitely feel an extra surge of energy, a buzz."

CHICAGO -- No player ever wants to get hurt, but in the case of Brian Campbell, his five-week absence was the best PR campaign he's had since joining the Chicago Blackhawks.

Until that fateful Sunday on March 14, when Campbell suffered a broken clavicle and fractured ribs after Alex Ovechkin pushed him into the end boards, the star defenseman was known mostly in these parts as the player making $7.14 million a season.

But something funny happened while he was out. The fans missed him. The media noticed his absence. Suddenly, he became the top-four blueliner whose 23 minutes a game and puck-moving skills were impossible to replace.

Campbell, while taking his skates off in the Hawks' dressing room Monday morning, started to laugh when we pointed this out to him.

"I think it was about a week into my injury, and my dad came down because I was pretty much useless and needed some help," Campbell said. "We both looked at each other and said, 'Maybe it's better to be hurt, you get better press coverage that way.'"

Campbell is indeed a valuable part of this Blackhawks team no matter what his salary is. He posted 38 points in 68 games this season with a plus-18 rating.

"I felt pretty good about my year; obviously you always want to be better," Campbell said. "I felt I can help this team. The salary is what it is. You're going to get booed or whatever because of it; [with] a lot of players that happens. I think last year, I wasn't used to it because in Buffalo, I was one of the lower-paid guys. You're under the microscope a little bit more, and that comes with the territory [of] being a professional hockey player. I'm just happy to be back now."

So are his teammates.

"He was missed, trust me," Hawks star winger Patrick Kane said Monday after the pregame skate. "Especially for a puck-moving defenseman like that, to have him back there, making a lot of plays, it helps out a lot, and sometimes you don't realize that. Maybe it was kind of nice to have him out a bit to see how much we appreciated him in the lineup. He's been really good ever since he came back; he seems to be getting into his groove."

Campbell came back in Game 4 against Nashville in the first round, and the Hawks closed out that series with three straight wins upon his return.

"He really gave us some puck possession and some speed out of the zone and relieved a lot of pressure," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said Monday. "Because I thought early in that Nashville series, we were hemmed in our end a lot, and I thought he really added some speed, some quickness and some puck possession -- it was a welcome return by him. He adds a lot to our mix, be it our power play and five-on-five play. He's certainly an element with the ice time and the quality of the ice time that really enhances our options on the back end."

Campbell feels pretty close to A-game now, which wasn't the case in the Nashville series.

"Yeah, I think now it is, I wouldn't say it was in the Nashville series," the 30-year-old said. "But I felt really good in Game 1, tried to get up as much as I could and help out and try to create some chances."

The key was to forget about his injury; that's a mental hurdle once you're back on the ice.

"I felt good here in Game 1, felt like I got my confidence back," Campbell said. "Everything is all secure with the injury, so I don't think about it anymore, which is a big thing. Honestly, I thought about [the injury] quite a bit in the Nashville series. I'm ready to roll now."

CHICAGO -- There wasn't a moment of hesitation from Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. Rookie netminder Antti Niemi will be back in goal for Game 2 on Monday night.

"Antti's playing, no doubt," Quenneville said Sunday after choosing not to skate his players. "He's played very well for us down the stretch. We like the way he played in consecutive games, went on a nice roll there. He played a very good series against Nashville, and he was fine last night. I think it was easy to make a change going into the third period to get him rested and get him excited."

Quenneville believes in Niemi's ability to rebound from poor outings, and that was on display in the first round when he posted a pair of shutouts after so-so performances.

"I think he's got the nice approach where he's focused. He's got a pretty laid-back attitude as far as moving forward and fighting through it," Quenneville said. "Last night was last night. I think he's just really focused on what he has to do to be successful as a goalie, and moving forward has never been an issue."

Getting to Luongo

Much of the focus in the Hawks' camp Sunday was finding a way to get to Roberto Luongo, perhaps bump him around a little.

"Absolutely, we can," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "Again, he's one of those guys that he's been a big part of their success and one of those guys we've focused on a lot in these last couple years. People start to say that this team is building on a rivalry; he's one of those guys we have to get to. We didn't do that [Saturday] night."

The key to beating Luongo?

"Second opportunities are generally the ones you get a better opportunity on him," Quenneville said. "When he sees the puck, he's very good. Traffic and ugly goals is the way we're going to be successful."

Pep talk

Toews isn't the rah-rah type, but he certainly wasn't happy Saturday night, and he may have let his teammates know.

"A lot of us were pretty frustrated yesterday. It's a natural reaction to show that you care about a game like that," Toews said Sunday. "Today, we're all pretty upbeat, that's the way to keep it. We have to stay in a good mood and be optimistic about [Monday]. The game yesterday is over; there's nothing we can do about that. There's no reason to walk around moping today and not talking to each other. I think we're all in a pretty good mood. We're ready to get back at 'er and have fun, work hard and win a hockey game."

Is Keith tired?

According to those who follow the Blackhawks on a daily basis, Norris Trophy nominee Duncan Keith has looked a little fatigued at times since the Olympics, and Saturday night wasn't a great game, either. His top pairing with Brent Seabrook will once again get lots of ice time in this series as it tries to defend against the Sedin twins.

"They do log a lot of minutes," Quenneville said. "They're going to be challenged in this series against the Sedins. That pair has been very reliable all year. I think awareness as to how they're feeling is part of it, but I think [Keith is] accustomed to playing up to 30 minutes. … He can absorb a lot of ice time, and he's got a lot of energy in his body, and he takes care of himself real well. We'll keep an eye on him, but he's certainly not a guy you have to worry about too much."

LOS ANGELES -- Less than a week ago, favored Vancouver was down 2-1 in its first-round series with Los Angeles and Canucks fans jammed radio phone lines and Internet message boards with calamitous rants.

In the middle of the near hysteria and panic from a city that has had its heart broken too many times by this hockey team over four decades, there stood Alain Vigneault. Like a man yawning in the middle of a tornado, the Canucks coach calmly and confidently predicted his key players would raise their games and the Canucks would be fine.

And, of course, that's exactly what happened. Now, Vancouver is hoping to wrap up its first-round series tonight with a road win over Los Angeles. The Canucks lead the series 3-2.

That Vigneault oozes serenity in these types of moments can be explained by a coaching career molded in hockey hotbeds. From a junior hockey coaching career in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to becoming the youngest head coach in Montreal Canadiens history (1997-2001) to stops as an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators (1992-1996), a head coach with the AHL's Manitoba Moose (2005-06) and his current post (hired in 2006) in one the NHL's most passionate markets, Vigneault is well-weathered.

Nothing, at this point, seems to rattle this guy.

"Coaching is coaching," Vigneault, who turns 49 next month, said Sunday morning at Staples Center. "Whether you're coaching in Montreal or Vancouver, or in PEI [QMJHL] and you're in the playoffs, it's the same pressure. There's maybe more attention outside, but on the ice and behind the bench, it's the same thing."

More attention outside? When you're coaching in Florida or Nashville or Phoenix, you don't have an army of media following your every step, and you don't live in a city where hockey is debated 24/7, as was the case in his previous NHL coaching jobs in Ottawa and Montreal and certainly right now in Vancouver. It's relentless.

"Obviously we're used to being in a Canadian environment, where everything is big and everything is important," Vigneault said. "It has less to do with me and more to do with my players. I've got a lot of faith, I've been around them a long time; they're ready for this moment and they're going to go out there and prove it."

He has to believe in his core players because his fate is tied to theirs. Win or lose, Vigneault, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Roberto Luongo and GM Mike Gillis will be the faces of this Canucks era.

Two years ago, Vigneault could have easily been erased from the picture. Gillis replaced Dave Nonis as GM and inherited Vigneault as coach. In this league, that's usually a recipe for a quick firing; GMs traditionally like to hire their own coaches, the first step in putting their stamp on their new team.

Don't think Gillis didn't think about it. But after a feeling-out process between two men who didn't know each other, Vigneault survived, to the surprise of most people.

"That was the first major and probably biggest decision I was facing," Gillis told ESPN.com on Sunday. "I wanted to accomplish two things: one, I wanted to get to know him and find out what his philosophy was and why the team played the way it did ... all the regular coaching issues."

Even more important, Gillis wanted people to see everyone was going to get a fair shake.

"That everyone, from our head coach to assistant coaches to the training staff, would get a fair opportunity to put their best foot forward," Gillis said. "To me, for credibility issues, that was vital."

So Gillis set out to grill Vigneault before making his decision.

"I put Alain through a very strenuous period," Gillis said. "I designed 32 questions that I wanted him to answer. He answered them and we talked about why he felt the way he did about certain questions, and I was not only satisfied but very pleased with the answers. A lot of them went to the real core of coach-player relationships and he handled it admirably."

They talked coaching philosophy, with Gillis asking Vigneault whether he could adjust if the GM brought in players designed to help their offensive game. The Canucks were a defensive-minded team in Vigneault's first two seasons, a team that won the Northwest Division title in his first season. But Gillis believed they had to change their style when he took over.

"We had to become a more offensive team," Gillis said. "If you're going to succeed in the playoffs now, you're going to have to score goals; instead of the reverse -- for years, you had to prevent goals. Right now, with the way penalties are called and the style of play, you have to be able to score."

Vigneault had to convince Gillis he could adjust.

"After going through that process, I was satisfied and I felt we could work together," Gillis said.

The GM did make changes to Vigneault's coaching staff, bringing in assistant coaches Ryan Walter and Darryl Williams. But Vigneault did survive, and thrive.

"I have tremendous respect for Alain," Gillis said. "I think he's a professional coach who works extremely hard. His staff works extremely hard. He's accountable. He doesn't shy away from accountability. He accepts it. It's worked well."

How road treats Ovechkin; Kings at home

April, 19, 2010
04/19/10
2:38
PM ET

A look at the numbers heading into tonight's playoff games, courtesy of ESPN stats guru Vince Masi:

Game 3: Capitals at Canadiens, 7 p.m. ET (series tied at 1)

The series shifts to Montreal and the raucous Bell Centre crowd. So, how does Alex Ovechkin fare in the first road game of a playoff series?

2009 conference semifinals: At Pittsburgh, one goal and an assist
2009 conference quarterfinals: At New York Rangers, two assists
2008 conference quarterfinals: At Philadelphia, one assist

Game 3: Sabres at Bruins, 7 p.m. ET (series tied at 1)

The series shifts to Boston, where the Bruins were 18-17-6 during the regular season. Among the 16 playoff teams, Boston's 18 home wins are the fewest, just two more than the Florida Panthers. The Bruins had trouble finding some offense at home, as well.

Fewest goals at home in 2010 regular season:
Flames: 95
Bruins: 99
Predators: 102
Maple Leafs: 103

Game 3: Canucks at Kings, 10 p.m. ET (series tied at 1)

This will be the Kings' first home playoff game since April 27, 2002, Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals against the Colorado Avalanche. Even Clippers fans have seen a playoff game in that span.

Home playoff games at Staples Center since April 27, 2002:
Lakers: 53
Clippers: 6
Kings: 0