VANCOUVER -- As the 2011 NHL trade deadline approached, the Vancouver Canucks were atop the Western Conference but injuries were causing problems for the team's defense corps.
General Manager Mike Gillis was confident in the organization's depth on defense, and instead made a pair of moves to improve his already stacked group of forwards. Given the way the rest of this season has gone for the Canucks, it now looks like Gillis' forward thinking was spot on.
He added Maxim Lapierre from the Anaheim Ducks and Chris Higgins from the Florida Panthers, and both have been important figures for the Canucks in part because of injuries to Manny Malholtra and Mikael Samuelsson.
"Max and Chris kind of went under the radar as far as deadline acquisitions go," Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider said. "There were some big names that moved around for sure, but to think where we'd be without those two guys right now … I don't know if we'd be here. They really solidified our forward depth. They've really played key roles for us."
One area of need for Vancouver before the deadline was a dependable fourth-line center. When injuries complicated matters on the blue line, Gillis could have shifted his efforts to improving the club elsewhere.
Instead, he picked up a pair of forwards who could play in various roles for the club. Both have fit in quickly for the Canucks.
"Obviously they have been a big help," defenseman Aaron Rome said. "With Manny going down, Max has been able to step up and fill in there. They both came in and kind of started on our fourth line, and you could see that they were probably better players than where they were slotted to begin with. They've moved up and been big contributors the whole playoffs."
Malholtra was lost to an eye injury in mid-March, and suddenly the Canucks needed a third-line center to replace a guy who had been one of their top defensive forwards and a key guy in the faceoff circle. He has been cleared to practice but not play at this point.
Samuelsson hasn't been able to play since the second round of the playoffs. He had surgeries to repair an adductor tendon and a sports hernia and is out indefinitely.
Enter Lapierre and Higgins, and the Canucks have continued to roll towards what would be the first championship in franchise history. Lapierre has filled in for Malholtra as a defensive-minded, faceoff-winning center behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler. Higgins has three of the team's 12 game-winning goals in this postseason.
"They've fit in seamlessly," Kesler said. "They came to this team and fit right in. In that dressing room, we care a lot for one another and we're like a big family. When we got those two guys at the deadline, they fit right in and they've had a tremendous impact."
Added Lapierre: "It was easy. They're a great group of leaders. The guys are unreal and they are really a mature group, too. It helps a lot when you come to a team and they are winning most of the time. For the confidence it makes things way easier."
Lapierre and Higgins had played together before as members of the Montreal Canadiens. Spending time together in Montreal also means they have lots of experience playing against the Boston Bruins.
"I've played them a lot more than a lot of the guys in this locker room so I've talked to them about what I think of the team, the strengths and weaknesses of certain players," Higgins said. "In the end, it is just a hockey game and everyone will figure it out as we go along here."
Added Lapierre: "I've played against the Bruins so much in my life, and then this year I get traded twice and end up playing in the Final against the Bruins. It makes everything more special. It is great to play there. It is loud in the building there and it is going to be a great series."