Larry Wigge | NHL.com Columnist ST. LOUIS -- Life throws curveballs at you once in a while. But for one member of the Vancouver Canucks, the change of pace worked out just fine.
It was before a game at St. Louis on Feb. 10 that coach Alain Vigneault told forward Alex Burrows he had a different assignment for him. Something new. Something better. Burrows wasn't quite so sure. He was happy being an impact checker who would score the occasional goal.
The assignment: Play on a line with the Sedin twins.
Burrows, who has seen more than a handful of wingers try to succeed while playing with the seductively talented Swedes over the last couple of seasons, got a goal in his first game as a scorer, after getting just 12 goals and 12 assists in 51 games as a checker.
He took off from there, scoring 16 goals and adding 11 assists in his last 31 games. But he saved his best for Tuesday night -- wristing a shot that had eyes and went through the pads of St. Louis Blues goaltender Chris Mason with 18.9 seconds left in overtime to give the Canucks a 3-2 victory and four-game sweep -- the first sweep of a best-of-7 series in franchise history.
"Alex has really been a clutch player for us," Vigneault said. "He has 'it.' He's focused, hard-working and he has a knack for being right in the middle of things. Now it isn't checking players in the middle of a scrum as much as before. It's getting us scoring chances."
Burrows spent one year with the Greenville Growl, another year with the Baton Rouge Kingfish and a third with the Columbia Inferno -- all in the East Coast Hockey League -- then played parts of two seasons with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League before making the Canucks
"I had to ask coach a second time about the switch from the checking line with Ryan Kesler to a scoring line with the twins," Burrows laughed. "I've come so far so fast in the last couple of years. I wasn't drafted. I had to play several years in the East Coast Hockey League. I certainly wasn't going to turn down a chance to help the team or see what I could do with two such talented players like Henrik and Daniel."
The game-winner against the Blues was Burrows' second goal of the game and third in the series. As it turns out, the undrafted, former ball hockey player in Montreal and his linemates have a lot more in common than most people might think. The threesome are all darters. It's just that Burrows goes from Point A to Point B with speed and an edge -- and still a little snarl -- like no one the Canucks have been able to find for the Sedins since they arrived in Vancouver in 2000.
"I'll never forget that night when we made the change, either," Vigneault said. "Splitting up a terrific defensive combination like Kes and Burr wasn't easy. But I had Alex at Winnipeg (the Moose of the AHL) when I was coaching there, and I always had a sense that he could do a lot more offensively with the wheels and hands he has."
Burrows has made Vigneault look like a genius. Not just for that move, but also for putting Kesler on a line with Mats Sundin and Pavol Demitra, giving the Canucks a second scoring line.
Burrows followed a first-period goal by Kyle Wellwood by scoring on a deflection 9:23 into the second period to give the Canucks a 2-0 lead. But the Blues bounced back on goals 3:24 apart by Brad Boyes and David Perron to tie the game late in the second period.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo held the Canucks in the game in OT, making 18 of his 47 saves -- many on the Blues' three power-play opportunities. After St. Louis rookie T.J. Oshie missed the net, Vancouver defenseman Willie Mitchell lobbed the rebound down the ice, where Burrows had gotten separation from St. Louis defenseman Barret Jackman. Burrows fired a shot from the lower right circle that squeezed through Mason's pads to send he and the Canucks into celebration.
"Wow! Two goals in one playoff game," Burrows said. "I always dreamed of playing in the NHL. I guess I just did it in a roundabout way."
After T.J. Oshie's scoring opportunity went wide, Vancouver defenseman Willie Mitchell, not known for his nifty passing, hit Alex Burrows with a 100-plus foot stretch pass and Burrows' shot from the right-wing faceoff circle squeezed through St. Louis goalie Chris Mason's pads with 18.9 seconds left in overtime for a 3-2 win and sweep of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
Andy McDonald's Stanley Cup aura rubbed off on the desperate Blues. He wound up with seven shots on goal and set up David Perron's goal, which tied the game with 3:06 left in the second period and helped keep the Blues alive in the series finale.
Taking Brad Boyes off the Blues' top line with Andy McDonald and David Backes and putting him with Keith Tkachuk and T.J. Oshie produced six Boyes shots and a tide-turning goal at 6:30 of the second period. Boyes, the team's leading scorer in the regular season with 33 goals, had only one goal on seven shots in the first three games. And Perron, inserted on the line with McDonald and Backes, also had nine shots and scored his first goal of the playoff.
The Blues had 18 shots in the overtime, but Roberto Luongo held the fort, setting the stage for the game-winner by Burrows.
Vancouver's penalty-killing, which held St. Louis' third-ranked regular-season power play to 1-for-17 in the first three games, made it 1-for-24 with its performance in Game 4, including three kills in the overtime to give the Canucks their first-ever sweep in the playoffs.