VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Anyone who watched Alexander Edler on the Canucks blue line for the first time Wednesday night would've thought the Swedish defenseman is in the middle of a Norris-worthy season -- not playing just his third game back from serious back surgery.
Edler played 21:32, second only to Dan Hamhuis, delivered seven hits, second only to Maxim Lapierre, and had two blocked shots.
He helped lead the physical charge, which saw the Canucks out-hit the Blackhawks 47-21 in a 2-0 Game 1 win over Chicago. The 24-year-old delivered big blows to the likes of Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg.
"I think he was the best player on the ice last night: physically, defensively and moving the puck," said Keith Ballard. "He's such a good player. He was out for so long that people don't realize -- we kept winning and kept moving along.
"I don't think people realize how good he is."
Edler missed over two months after undergoing lower-back surgery to fix a nagging injury which was exacerbated by a center-ice collision with Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn on Jan. 24.
"Everyone thinks that's the hit that hurt my back, but it didn't really have anything to do with that," Edler said. "It was something that came earlier, before that game and it just didn't really settle down, which had been happening before.
"It wasn't too much pain that I had any problems playing really, it came for a couple days and then settled down. It was never an issue playing until that time when I decided to do the surgery."
The former second-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks returned to the lineup for the final two games of the regular season and finished the 2010-11 campaign leading the Canucks in ice time with an average of 24:17.
"He's put in a lot of time and effort to make sure that his conditioning was where it needed to be to step in at this time of the year," coach Alain Vigneault said. "He's done a real good job for us."
Edler's responsibilities now that he's back extend beyond his actual play. Last season, when the defenseman asked to have a bigger role on the team, he was given the task of letting the players know when it was time to go on the ice prior to games.
"He's got that still and he takes a lot of pride in it," fellow defenseman Kevin Bieksa said, grinning. "He's like ‘let's go… let's go boys' in his little voice.
"I think for right now, that's enough responsibility. He's like a first-round draft pick, you don't want to rush him along too quickly or it could hurt him, right? He gets this and he feels comfortable with it right now -- maybe next year we can mix in a secret handshake or something like that."