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Countdown To Four

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks


Kevin Bieksa joined his teammates for the first time Monday morning since coming down with a nasty flu April 25th.

"His flu seems to be leaving, but I haven't talked to Bernie [medical trainer Mike Burnstein] so I can't tell you where he's at right now," said head coach Alain Vigneault.

Bieksa was equally evasive about his return.

"I don't know it's still tough to say," said Bieksa. "Like I said, it's my first practice, first time doing drills and passing, for a week now, I'll see how I feel tomorrow. I'm just happy there's better progress."

While there's no date set for his return, Bieksa's hoping it'll be sooner than later.

"I hate being up in that press box with you guys," he chuckled in front of assembled media. "It's tough to watch the game from there. I definitely want to be out there helping the team. It's been tough these few games that's for sure. I'm just looking forward to the game I get back."

He's not alone.

Sami Salo returned Sunday night after recovering from his bout with the flu, and provided the Canucks' blue-line with some short-lived relief.

Rory Fitzpatrick was missing from Sunday's 3-2 loss with the now infamous "flu" but whether it's an upper body flu or lower body flu is unknown.

"There are some injuries right now that we're just keeping to ourselves," said Vigneault. "It's just the nature of the beast."

While the Canucks welcomed Bieksa back in practice, Jeff Cowan, Jan Bulis, and Taylor Pyatt were all missing from what Vigneault dubbed an "optional skate" Monday morning.

Coach Vigneault hinted one of the three may be coming down with the flu, and could be questionable for Tuesday night.


While the Canucks' struggles on the powerplay are well documented, their ability to kill penalties in round two is becoming an area of concern.

The Ducks were held in check with the man-advantage in Game Two, but they managed to go 2-for-5 in Sunday's Game Three. Anaheim is now running at a very respectable 22.5 percent efficiency with the extra man.

Not exactly the kind of numbers you'd expect from the best penalty killing team in the league during the regular season.

Vancouver's PK has been good all season long, as well as through the series with Dallas, but Anaheim has been able to capitalize by keeping things deceptively simple. The Ducks powerplay is ranked third in the playoffs and has succeeded in large part by picking up some ugly goals.

"They've got one of the best powerplays in the league," says Roberto Luongo. "They've got a lot of traffic at the net... they've got three guys in front for rebounds. If you look at the goals they've scored on the powerplay, at least the two I can remember off the top of my head, they have just been a wrister to the net and then three guys in there jamming at rebounds. I said after the first game we've got to do a better job of getting into the shot lane and once the shot goes through we're going to need guys on the net taking away rebounds."

"That's how you score goals," says Coach Vigneault. "You don't see a lot of bang-bang, tic-tac-toe plays in the playoffs. You see guys getting pucks to the net, going to those tough areas, taking a couple whacks or cross-checks and finding a way to put in those first, second or third rebounds."

The Canucks penalty killers were renowned this season for their ability to pounce on loose pucks and take away shooting lanes. Disrupting Anaheim's ability to get pucks on net is what many Canuck defenders feel is their best chance at shutting down the Ducks.

"Usually the best powerplays take a lot of shots and have people in front of the net, and that's what they've been doing lately," says Mattias Ohlund. "I think we can do a better job of taking away shooting lanes, and making sure they don't have as much time to make the plays they've been making."

Many Canucks players feel their powerplay could learn a thing or two from the Ducks, including Markus Naslund, who says his team needs to do better at getting into those rough areas in front of the net.

"It comes back to basics," says Naslund. "We've got to get people around the net, we've got to get shots through, we've got to do those little things that go a long way. I think we can all do a better job of getting in there, being smart about it, but being hungrier on loose pucks and screens and rebounds."


One of the developing stories in this series is the great starts the Canucks are managing to engineer. Vancouver has come storming out of the gates in all three games so far in this series, and had undoubtedly their best start of the post-season on Sunday when they outshot the Ducks 13-2 in the first period.

However, despite all the chances they're managing to generate, the Canucks have scored just six times in three games. While they consistently outplayed the Ducks 5-on-5 in Game Three, they've had trouble solving J-S Giguere.

No one has created more close calls than Jan Bulis, who had a chance to force overtime late in Game Three tipping a puck into Giguere's pads in the dying seconds. It was one of four or five opportunities Bulis generated through the game, including two in the first three minutes.

"I've had enough of being unlucky," said Bulis, "I've got to put those in. I don't know what more I can do. But this series is a long way from over. It's only 2-1 and we've outplayed them 5-on-5."

The Canucks 5-on-5 play has been a sort of silver lining to the cloud hanging that's begun to form over their powerplay. In Game Three the Canucks showed a great deal of discipline, and were only penalized five times. If that trend continues, Markus Naslund says some of those bounces will start to go their way.

"At 5-on-5 I think we're getting the majority of the chances," says Markus Naslund. "I think early on [in Game Three] we could've had two or three with a little luck. I think a little harder work is going to make a big difference."

While he says there's no doubt the Canucks powerplay needs to generate some goals, Coach V is also impressed with his team's ability to take it to the Ducks at even strength.

"As much as everyone is making them out to be the big, bad, mighty Ducks and they're going to walk all over us, I think we're proving 5-on-5, with our best game and our best effort, we can compete against them."

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