Ghosts of playoffs past haunt Canucks

Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews collides with Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo in Vancouver on...

Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews collides with Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo in Vancouver on Feb. 4, 2011. (ANDY CLARK/Reuters)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:28 AM ET

VANCOUVER - Before they can even think about becoming the NHL's new champion, the Vancouver Canucks must take care of the old one -- which might be like asking an eight-year-old to take care of the monster under his bed.

With a history of post-season underachievement that's been haunting them since last spring -- they're one upset away from being known as San Jose North -- the last thing Vancouver needed in the opening round are the fast-skating ghosts of failures past.

The Canucks aren't shouldering enough pressure as it is? Fate has to heap two years worth of psychological baggage on at the last minute?

"When you put that jersey (Hawks) on, instant hate comes into this dressing room," said Kevin Bieksa, as the clubs prepare to write the third chapter in the Canucks-Hawks trilogy. "It's a team we want to beat badly."

The Canucks have good reason to dislike (or be worried about, take your pick) Chicago. Twice Vancouver entered the playoffs with 100 points or more and twice Chicago sent them home in the second round.

And now, thanks to a Dallas choke in the last game of the regular season, Chicago is back from the dead to try and ruin another summer in Van city.

Anyone who thinks this is a garden variety 1 vs 8 matchup is kidding. There are more hooks in this series than a pirate reunion.

"We worked all year to finish first and we're getting the Cup champions," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. "It doesn't get any better than that."

Unless it ends the same way the last two did.

"What happened the last two years doesn't translate to this year," insisted netminder Roberto Luongo, one of Vancouver's weak links in the series losses to Chicago. "We can't be affected by it."

Oh, but the Canucks were greatly affected by it. They brought in reinforcements last summer, eased Luongo's workload in the winter, re-focused Ryan Kelser and Alex Burrows and changed the way the whole team thinks.

"We're a different team this year," said Bieksa. "Mentally we have our emotions in check and physically we're a much better team, we're the best team in the regular season. We found our chemistry."

And now, they say they're ready to make things right.

"If you learn from the past there's a good chance the future will be different," said Vigneault. "We've proven a lot of things during the regular season, now it's our turn to go out and prove it in the playoffs."

From the outside, they look like a supremely confident group. Tight, but confident.

"We know that for 82 games we were the best team in the league," said Daniel Sedin. "Over seven games, if we play the right way and do the little things right, we're probably going to win the series."

Nobody's pretending these are the same Hawks that won it all last year. Not even the Hawks. They are minus Dustin Byfuglien, Adam Burish, Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd and playoff hero Antti Niemi. Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer are questionable.

But Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharpe, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith are still there.

"Both teams have different pieces," said Vigneault. "All their gifted skill players are still there. They're a strong opponent, we're aware of that."

Plus, Chicago's won. Vancouver hasn't. That remains a major intangible on the Hawks' side of the ledger.

"They've proven they can play on the big stage and play through the adversity, challenge and pressure that comes with it," said Vigneault. "We think we can do it and we're going to set out to try and prove it."

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/tychkowski


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