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On the road again

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
The sky is blue, grass is green and winning on the road is a must for the Vancouver Canucks if they hope to find themselves in the playoffs at season's end.

What revolutionary information, next week we'll discuss how important breathing is.

Rudimentary or not, going into an opposing rink and coming away with two points can be the difference between filling a slot in the Western Conference's top eight and filling days with putts on the back-nine.

Vancouver's last three playoff appearances are proof of this as the team won at least 22 games away from GM Place each season.

Following their season-high six game homestand that ended with a 4-2 mashing of the Maple Leafs, the Canucks are back on the road this week looking to add a few more wins to their 4-4-1 record.

This trip began with a tough 2-1 shootout loss on Long Island on Monday, the Canucks will now hit New York City, Minnesota and Pittsburgh to round out the four-game jaunt.

The highlight of the trip for most players, including forward Ryan Kesler, is Vancouver's game against the New York Rangers.

Playing at Madison Square Garden is exciting anytime for Kesler, who's been to MSG twice during his career, but facing a respected ex-teammate in the process makes it even more intriguing.


Wednesday's game will be the first between the Canucks and former team captain Markus Naslund.

"I was good friends with him, it was sad to see him go but it looks like he's found another home in New York," said Kesler. "He's playing well so it's going to be a tough challenge for us."

Naslund was part of the Canucks organization for more than 11 seasons, leaving Vancouver during the off-season as the team's all-time leader in points, goals, game-winning goals, power play goals and hat tricks.

"I learnt a lot from him," said Kesler, who played with Naslund for four seasons.

"Just the way he held himself everyday, he really didn't let anything bother him. The media was a little hard on him the last couple of years and he still came to the rink everyday with a smile on his face, he was just so professional about everything and he was such a good teammate. Little things like that go a long way."

Friendship becomes somewhat meaningless once the puck drops and it's a good thing because the Rangers are the team to beat in the East right now so the Canucks will have to be at their gritty, take-no-prisoners best.

Many Vancouver fans still cringe when New York or Madison Square Garden is brought up, despite the fact that it's been 15 seasons since the Canucks and Rangers squared off for the Stanley Cup.

Kesler was only nine-years-old when the heartbreaking seven game series went down, so MSG isn't tainted for him.

"I love playing at MSG, its just great, I really can't describe it. There's so much history that goes into that rink, so many events have gone on there so you just step on the ice there and you look around and you kind of take it all in."

Vancouver plays its third of 10 back-to-back games with a quick stop in Minnesota on Wednesday. The Canucks and Wild always go to war with each other and on home ice Minnesota can be especially tough to beat.


Kesler isn't overlooking that important division match-up, but he'd be wise to not over exert himself with Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on the horizon for Saturday.

"He's one of the most elite players in this league and they've got a solid team, so it's going to be a good game," assessed Kesler.

"They've got some scoring power over there. They showed it against Detroit [on Nov. 11] when they beat them 7-6, so we're going to have to play a solid defensive game against them."

The we Kesler is referring to is himself, Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen as the third line will be looked upon to once again to silence Sid the Kid and his linemates.

Turns out it's not as easy as Kesler and Burrows made it look in holding Pittsburgh's top line to no points when the Penguins where at GM Place last season.

"He still had some solid chances, Louie was just there to backstop us. [Crosby] is so dangerous off the rush and he's a pretty good passer so we're going to have to play him tough and try to get him off his game."

Four games on the road in six nights, it'll be a hectic week for the Canucks and rudimentary or not, Kesler and company know what's at stake.

"Great teams in this league have great road records. We've been decent on the road, we had a good California trip, and we're trying to build on that and get wins on the road.

"That's what's going to get us into the playoffs and that's what's going to get us a good ranking once we get to the playoffs."

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Road Trip Diary

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4 - Career game-winning goals

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93 - NHL points for Kesler (44-49-93)

127 - Career road games played for Kesler heading into New York

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