Canucks rest stars for tough grind ahead

Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo gets emotional after losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final to...

Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo gets emotional after losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final to the Boston Bruins this spring.

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:45 AM ET

VANCOUVER - It might have been a little early for a question about the powerplay, but the answer shed some light on the mindset of the Vancouver Canucks at the moment.

“It was good this morning at 9,” Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault said with a laugh.

“It looked real good.”

There’s a reason the special-teams unit looked so deadly in the early hours Tuesday, well before the Calgary Flames joined a no-name Canucks ensemble on the ice at Rogers Arena ice for one half of the split-squad pre-season battle between the two franchises.

As part of the group that wasn’t participating in the games, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, Mikael Samuelsson, Chris Higgins, Alex Edler, Sami Salo, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa were all available to take part in the early morning drills.

Not a single star was iced by the Canucks in either contest Tuesday night.

Apparently, they had a long enough spring and too short a summer to be rushed back into action.

Barely three months after the disgraceful riots that followed an embarrassing Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final, the memory of how difficult it was to get to that pivotal series and the gargantuan task of getting back there again is enough to allot for some extra prep time for the big-name Canucks.

“We have the pieces to do some damage again, but that being said, it’s not a guarantee,” sniper Samuelsson told the Vancouver Province this week. “Anything can happen.

“We should make the playoffs and go from there.”

They made the playoffs in convincing fashion last season, claiming the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best team (points), earning the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals-against while leading the league in goals-for.

Oh, they also had the most efficient powerplay.

Despite injuries to the irreplaceable Ryan Kesler and Cochrane speedster Mason Raymond that will leave the Canucks with a couple of spots to fill to start the season, they definitely have the weapons to repeat as Northwest Division and Western Conference champs.

But do they have the mental strength?

“The biggest thing is being in it again mentally,” said Samuelsson, who has been in this spot before — although he came out on the winning end of things with the Detroit Red Wings in the 2008 Stanley Cup final before losing Game 7 to the Pittsburgh Penguins the following spring.

“Start now because it’s going to be a long season.”

Well, a long season is their goal.

It’s also a grind.

“It’s not like we’re not going to be able to physically do it. It will be the mental side to push through those tough times,” former Flames forward Chris Higgins told the Vancouver paper.

“It’s a pretty mature group here, but it’s easy with the season we had last year to be a little lax.”

The idea is to go out and prove they proved nothing last season.

“We still haven’t won it all,” said Henrik Sedin.

“You’ve got to prove you can go all the way.”


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