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Epic Fighter

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks
During their record setting regular season, when the Vancouver Canucks put their foot on the accelerator, the sweet sounds of a powerful engine roared throughout The Garage.

Each and every player knew their role on the ice and played it to perfection. They were like a meticulously designed, well-crafted luxury German automobile.

But during the second period of Wednesday night and into Thursday morning's playoff marathon, Vancouver's finely tuned machine began to leak a bit of oil.

Matt Cooke, the all-star agitator and critical component to Canucks success was the first playoff casualty when he left the contest with a strained groin.

Later in the first overtime period, penalty kill specialist and shot blocker extraordinaire, Alexandre Burrows was forced to leave the game after Stephane Robidas rode him hard into the boards.

Burrows looked wobbly when he tried regaining his balance and finding his way to the Canucks bench. He also didn't return and was listed with an "upper body" injury.

Coach Alain Vigneault was forced to shuffle his lines - although forced' may be a strong word because the sly bench boss has been known to throw different combinations over the boards from time to time.

Playoff rookie Jeff Cowan was promoted to a line with Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison and without missing a beat, the new trio started firing on all cylinders again in no time.

Cowan was nearly too tired to wipe the sweat from his brow in the dressing room after the Canucks finally put an end to the free of charge bonus hockey coverage. Throwing nine hits and skating miles during 28:32 of ice-time can be taxing on the odometer of any hockey player's physique.

"I've never played that long - it's pretty tough," said Cowan as he sat in his stall, too exhausted to stand up. "I'm pretty tired and pretty wiped right now. We'll see about tomorrow and trying to recover."

As the grueling contest moved from one, and then two, three and finally four extra periods, Cowan seemed to get stronger each time he hit the ice. It was like someone pushed the turbo boost button on his 45 shift performance.

"I just tried to keep digging," said Cowan as Canucks Strength and Conditioning Coach Roger Takahashi handed him a replenishing bottle of Gatorade. "When the games go long like that, I think you've got to just keep working harder each time you go out there.

"That's what I tried to do. There was a big goal for us there and a big relief on the bench. It seemed like that game was never going to end."

Cowan wasn't the only one popping the top of an energy drink and addressing the media from his rear end - although it's surprising any of them could even sit because they all worked their tails off.

Most Vancouver players looked exhausted. Losing two valuable cogs increased everyone's output to nearly redline status, but the Canucks were still able to ratchet up their intensity and take the all important first game of the seven game series and maintain home-ice advantage.

"Tonight was definitely satisfying," said Cowan. "A couple key guys go down but guys stepped up and played well. We'll take the win - it's a big win for us."

There's nothing better than 2 for 1 night. The Canucks came into this series with players who've yet to lace them up in the post-season. Tonight's five hour and 21 minute race around the ice will be worth miles of experience.

"I'm really proud of our guys and the effort and the challenge they did tonight," said Vigneault during his brief post game press conference. "We had a lot of guys that were playing their first playoff game, from Jeff Cowan, to Kesler, Bur, (Burrows) Lukas, Kevin Bieksa and the goaler and I thought it was great experience for them.

"They played a couple games so they got two games under their belt right off the hop so that's good for them as far as experience."

The status of Cooke and Burrows remains unknown. Both will be evaluated later today.
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