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Max-imum effort

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Is Maxim Lapierre the key to Vancouver’s playoff success?

Sports Illustrated believes so.

In the April 11th edition of SI, in which UConn’s Kemba Walker is 10-feet in the air aiming up a shot over the outstretched arm of Butler’s Shelvin Mack, writer Brian Cazeneuve offers up an NHL playoff preview in the feature Vancouver has the best damn pests in the west.

The article explains that a team’s bottom six players make a bigger difference down the stretch in the playoffs than the elite players. On that note, Cazeneuve singled out the Canucks fourth-line center as the x-factor for Vancouver.

“Lapierre’s work on the third line,” he wrote, “will be the key to keeping the Canucks off the third rail.”

My mention of the article was the first Lapierre had heard about being showcased in the magazine, which is read by 23 million people every week.

“No pressure, eh,” laughed Lapierre.

Even if there were a mountain of pressure, it wouldn’t make a difference to Lapierre.

The 26-year-old product of Saint-léonard, Quebec, acquired at this year’s trade deadline from Anaheim, walks to the beat of his own drum and to Rogers Arena on game days, showing up alone, sans Escalade, despite the hoards of Canucks fans encircling the home of the Canucks.

He also shows up in the playoffs, saving his best performances for when the games mean the most.

In Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal between the Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks, Lapierre’s importance was on full display as he, Tanner Glass and Victor Oreskovich stole the show by doling out 15 of Vancouver’s 47 hits.

Lapierre led the Canucks with eight hits, his highest single game output in at least the last two seasons, and they were a legit eight hits, as verified by Alex Burrows.

“In some rinks sometimes you’ll see guys have six, eight, 10 hits, but here in Rogers Arena, you don’t often see too many guys have over five or six,” said Burrows, defending Lapierre.

“I think he got robbed a bit too. He could have had double digits.”

The superb play of Vancouver’s third and fourth lines Wednesday night allowed coach Alain Vigneault to roll all four trios and give Chicago a healthy dose of everything the Canucks have to offer. All are hoping that includes more of the same from Lapierre going forward.

“In the playoff it’s a team game, everybody brings something special every night and this is what we’re trying to do,” said Lapierre, up to his neck in reporters Thursday post-practice.

“I want to keep my game simple and play physical, that’s it. I like that type of game, there’s a lot of emotion and that’s a huge part of my game.”

There’s emotional in a he-cried-during-Titanic kind of way (no comment), and then there’s emotional like Lapierre, who simply cannot get enough playoff hockey.

Some of his best numbers have been posted during the NHL’s second season, including a career faceoff percentage of over 50.2, which he revved up to 71 per cent winning five of seven draws in Game 1.

Lapierre is also well known by the likes of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, and specifically Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, for his blanketing play on both players last season as a member of the Montreal Canadiens in two Cinderella upsets en route to an appearance in the Eastern Conference Final.

That was his role then, being a mucker is his role now; Lapierre will do whatever it takes to win.

“My game is built on emotion mainly and this is why I like to play in the playoffs. There’s a lot of energy in the building and it’s a great time of the year to play hockey. I thrive on this and whatever I need to do for my team to win, I’m willing to accept any role.

“Playoffs are all about heart and hardwork, that’s all it comes down to in the end. The team that wants it the most, that’s the team that is going to win.”

With that attitude, Lapierre might just be a key to the Canucks playoff success – he’s definitely a lock to punish anyone who gets in Vancouver’s way.

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