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Clocking In

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks
Until last week, Kevin Bieksa hadn't played a single NHL playoff game.

But the way he's gone about his business in the few days against the Dallas Stars, you'd think he's a seasoned veteran.

If Alain Vigneault's trust can be measured in numbers, Bieksa's team-leading average of 31:54 over four games is it. His total ice time is second most out of any player in the playoffs this year - behind Sergei Zubov of the Stars.

"It's been fun," said Bieksa. "I've just kind of been thrust into the position there and don't really think a whole lot about it. I just go out there and play a game the way I've been playing all year. I know my role on the team so I'm just trying to do that."

Yes, playoff hockey is different from the regular season - specifically more intense and more physical. But that fits the bill of the Bieksa style.

In game one, he battled for over 54 minutes, nearly the length of an entire hockey game, thanks to the seven-period marathon.

"It was a good test," said Bieksa of his NHL playoff debut. "That was a good way to get my feet wet in the playoffs."

But the second year NHLer isn't exactly new to big ice time and playoff pressure. When he was with the Manitoba Moose, he saw his fair share of both. In the 2004-05 season, the Moose went to the third round - the conference finals - and in 2005-06 they went to round two.

Bieksa couldn't recall exactly how much ice time he had, but it wasn't much different from this playoff series with the Canucks. "I was playing a lot," he said.

Of course, NHL playoffs are a step up from the AHL, but Bieksa's adapted to the surroundings like a chameleon. He attributes that to a full year of hard work.

"It's been a good season so far," said Bieksa. "I had a full training camp this year which helped out a lot as opposed to last year. You go through the routines, you go through the reps, you get to feel more comfortable with it."

The only playoff jitters Bieksa has shown this series is in his discipline. "I had a tough start there with a couple penalties, but I'm starting to settle in a bit and trying to stay out of the box the last couple games," he said.

In the series, Bieksa has more than double the amount of minor penalties than any Canuck with seven, but four of those were in the first game.

Despite that high number, Bieksa has done a good job of resisting roughing penalties that some of the pesky Stars have been tempting him with.

"You've got to be energized and throw your body around, but at the same time disciplined," he says. "Especially after the whistle, because you get some guys that get under your skin - or get under my skin at least."

But he's kept the "dumb" penalties to a minimum, despite the Stars' best efforts to draw one. "I haven't got a retaliation penalty I don't think," he says.

However, no one should expect Bieksa to sacrifice his intensity and physical play because he's wary of the penalty box. Just ask Brendan Morrow.

"[Morrow and I] had a few words last game just to let each other know we'll be in each others faces all night," said Bieksa. "That's what you expect from playoff hockey," said Bieksa. "And I like those battles."

You can bet on seeing some more colourful conversation between the two rivals in game five when Morrow and the Stars are in a must win game. But Bieksa's looking for his first playoff series win in the NHL, and he's showing no signs of slowing down.
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