NEED FOUR - NOT THREE
One more win. That's all it will take for the Vancouver Canucks to bring down the Dallas Stars and advance to the second round of playoff action for the first time in three years.
For a team that looked like they might never score again following game one, the Canucks have crafted something of a minor miracle, dramatically swinging momentum into their favour and taking a strangle-hold on the best of seven series with a 3-1 record.
3-1 series leads are something of a tricky thing with the Canucks however. In what were some of the franchise's more dramatic moments, the Canucks managed to scratch and claw their way through 3-1 deficits to win the first round in both '94 and '03. However, the sting of losing to Minnesota in the second round in '03 after holding a lead of that same margin is still with many of the Canucks.
"We can't get ahead of ourselves," Markus Naslund said after practice Wednesday. "There's a lot of guys in this room who have been up 3-1 before and lost, and vice-versa, we came back being down to St. Louis 3-1. We know that the fourth one is going to be tough, but we intend to win tomorrow's game."
If the Canucks win Thursday and do advance to the second round, it will be the first time in 13 years they have won a series in such decisive fashion. The last time the Canucks won a series in five games was the 1994 Western Conference Final, when they defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs. Incidentally, the last time the Canucks and Stars met in the playoffs was the round before that, when the Canucks also won in five.
So as their past history has proved, there is no certainty that the Canucks will advance Thursday. But goaltender Roberto Luongo
, who aside from Willie Mitchell's stick has been the Canucks MVP so far these playoffs, says his team knows what it has to do to take game five.
"I think we've got to approach like we did the last game in Dallas," said Luongo. "We've got to make sure we play a good systems game, not give them too many opportunities, and score some big goals when we need to."
"All along we've talked about the process," Coach Alain Vigneault added. "We've talked about taking care of the process. If you take care of the process, the results will take care of themselves. All our games have been hard fought. It's very desperate hockey by two teams, and tomorrow night those two teams will be desperate again." DALLAS IN DESPERADO
Key to the Canucks success in this series, not to mention Roberto Luongo
's GAA, has been Willie Mitchell.
The BC-born defenseman has been instrumental in shutting down Stars leading scorers Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen.
He expects his toughest test is yet to come in Thursday's Game 5 as the Stars will be throwing everything they have the Canucks way.
"I think we'll see much the same," Mitchell said at practice Wednesday. "That's their style, it's effective, it works. But we play a very similar style of play to them too. I just expect that desperation to be there just a little bit more. And that always happens when your back's against the wall."
"The fourth one is always the toughest to win, we're going to come out with some muscle, certainly don't want to travel all the way back to Dallas," said Josh Green, who returned to action Tuesday night. "Want to finish things off here but will be challenging." NOT EASY BEING GREEN
After sitting out for over six weeks, Josh Green was more than a little relieved to be back on the ice for game four.
"It was so much better being part of the game than sitting up in the press box," Green said following Tuesday's game. "I think I went through three pairs of shoes pacing around during the first three games."
Green had been sidelined since March 1 with a knee sprain. He had played 57 games this season and had seven points.
He played Tuesday on a line with Alex Burrows and Jeff Cowan, and resumed his role on the Canucks PK, which managed to keep Dallas at bay.
Some other news on the injury front: Matt Cooke is still listed as day-to-day, and has yet to skate since going down with a groin injury in game one.