THE VANCOUVER SUN
'As big as it can get': Burrows speaks for his embattled team on tonight's clash
Brad Ziemer said the divisional match-up that will take place tonight in Colorado may be the biggest game of the year for the Canucks:
Coach Alain Vigneault resisted the temptation to run his players through a tough workout following a dreadful 4-1 loss in Chicago on Sunday. Instead, he cancelled a practice that had been scheduled for Monday afternoon in Denver and told the players to do as they pleased.
"You have to read your team and we looked slow and we looked tired," Vigneault said. "Slow and tired makes it time for a day off."
So the players got to sleep in, some wandered the mall near their hotel and they all gathered Monday night for a team meal at an upscale restaurant.
Hopefully, they also found time to do some reflecting on what happened Sunday when they were badly outplayed by a Chicago team missing eight regulars.
Tonight, the Canucks play the latest "game of the season." Others will surely follow, but there is no arguing how important tonight's game against the Colorado Avalanche is for a Canucks team that is beginning to look a little fragile.
"This is about as big as it can get," said Canuck winger Alex Burrows. "There are going to be a lot of big games down the stretch here, but this is one of them, for sure."
Vigneault, as he has done every time his players have stumbled this season, expressed confidence Monday that his team will rebound tonight.
"Obviously we're not pleased with last night's performance," he said of a game that started at 2 p.m. Chicago time. "That being said, again, I want to say that we have played some really good hockey lately. We had a very good month of February. For whatever reason, I can't explain it and the players can't explain it, yesterday we had a very poor outing. There's nothing we can do about it, we have to move on; we have a very important game tomorrow night against Colorado and we have to focus on that."
Vigneault does not have to be told that back home on talk radio, the sky is falling. In fact, as he wandered into the lobby of the team's hotel for a scheduled late-afternoon meeting with reporters, he chuckled and said: "Anybody left on the bandwagon?"
Vigneault had just finished watching a replay of Sunday's game in Chicago. It did not look any better the second time around.
"I saw the same thing you guys saw last night," he said. "It wasn't pretty. We just have to turn the page and move on."
Vigneault acknowledged that is easier said than done.
"It's funny, a lot of things go through your mind after a game like last night's," he said. "I remember my buddy Therrien [Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien] going on the air after one of their very bad games [last season] and going, 'They don't care, they say they care, but they don't care' and he went on and on and on.
"That's one thing I know about this group is that they do care, they do want to succeed and you know, they have proven that throughout this year."
Now the Canucks must prove it again against a Colorado team that has beaten them three straight games. The latest defeat started the Canucks' current three-game losing streak and was especially painful. Last Wednesday at General Motors Place, Joe Sakic scored with 14.7 seconds left in the third period to tie the game and the Avs went on to win it in a shootout.
Some might say the Canucks haven't been quite the same since, but Vigneault prefers to dwell on the positives of that game.
"That was one of our best games of the year," he said. "It's a bounce of a puck, we lost a tight game in a shootout. The game against Colorado was a hard-fought game ... This group has faced adversity well, we got a big kick in the butt yesterday, so I am expecting them to rebound with a strong game tomorrow."
Vigneault would not say if he plans any more line-juggling. He split up Markus Naslund and the Sedin twins Sunday in Chicago and nothing good came of that. So does he reunite them tonight?
"I just finished watching the game again," he said. "I'm going to go for a walk and I'm going to think it through.
"I'm not quite sure what we're going to do. Obviously, those guys want to do really well and are putting a lot of pressure on themselves. We need our best players right now to play really well. We need all of our players to play well. We're in playoff mode right now."
Coach says players care
After butt-kicking in Chicago, strong game is a must
Gordon McIntyre said the emotion and passion the Canucks possess must be translated on to the ice:
Hindsight helps put history in perspective, so we won't know for a while whether last Wednesday's blown-lead loss to Colorado, as Joe Sakic tied the game with 15 seconds to go in regulation, was the pebble that triggered the avalanche.
It's been said the Canucks need a perfect storm of great goaltending, hard work, tight defensive play and timely scoring to succeed.
Sunday in Chicago they were as becalmed as a team can be.
"For whatever reason, and obviously I can't explain it and the players can't explain it, but we had a very poor outing," coach Alain Vigneault said Monday. "There's nothing we can do about it, we've got to move on.
"You can take any part of our game and all parts were off."
It would have been interesting to talk to any of the players on Monday, to see how a night's sleep affected their outlook after they were so thoroughly embarrassed against the Blackhawks -- a 12th-place team missing its starting goalie and seven starting skaters. But the players had a day off, leaving the coach to speak to the cohort of media in the lobby of the team's hotel in Denver's swank Cherry Creek zip code.
"You've got to read your team and we looked slow and we looked tired," Vigneault said of Sunday's 4-1 loss. "Slow and tired makes it time for a day off."
And slow and tired does not win the race.
Vigneault had just watched a recording of Sunday's game again before meeting the press corps. He saw nothing that wasn't apparent in real time.
"It wasn't pretty," he said. "I remember -- not this year but last year -- my buddy [Penguins coach Michel] Therrien going on the air after one of their very bad games and he said, 'They say they care, but they don't care,' and on and on and on. One thing I know about this group is that they do care.
"They've proven it throughout this year."
Nashville has four games remaining against Detroit, but with the Wings in a 2-8-2 freefall that's not a bad thing.
Colorado has a tougher schedule: Anaheim, Dallas twice, New Jersey and 11 Northwest games.
"This is the most fun part of the year," Vigneault said. "This group has shown that they've faced adversity well.
"We got a big kick in the butt [in Chicago] and I'm expecting them to rebound with a really strong game."
THE VANCOUVER SUN
Injuries put focus on Forsberg: Smyth, Svatos could be gone for the season
Brad Ziemer said with injuries to two Avalanhce top-six forwards, the pressure on Forsberg to return is surmounting:
The Colorado Avalanche will be without Ryan Smyth and leading goal-scorer Marek Svatos when they meet the Vancouver Canucks tonight, but they just might have Peter Forsberg in their lineup.
Forsberg practised with the Avs on Monday and said afterwards he will decide after this morning's game-day skate whether he will play tonight.
The Avs could certainly use him. Colorado lost Smyth and Svatos in Saturday's win over the Los Angeles Kings. Both players could be gone for the season.
Svatos suffered a knee injury while Smyth banged his head and is believed to have separated his left shoulder when he was run into the side boards by Kings defenceman Jack Johnson.
Smyth had only played nine games since returning to action after missing 18 games with a fractured right ankle.
The injuries to Svatos and Smyth will only add to the pressure on Forsberg to play his first game with the Avs sooner rather than later.
Forsberg skated on left wing at Monday's practice with Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk.
"I know two guys went down last game, and I want to get back, but I have to be honest with myself," Forsberg said. "When I come back I have to be ready to come back and play 100 per cent."
Canuck coach Alain Vigneault said facing Forsberg is the least of his worries.
"I'm not worried about Forsberg, I'm worried about my team right now," Vigneault said.