Last season ended in a disastrous free-fall for Vancouver, but new coaches, management and summertime free agent acquisitions made a turn around a reality that the Canucks backed up with their play time and time again throughout the 2015 season.
The Sedins were aging, the defensive core was stale, the Kesler trade didn’t net enough in return and the signing of Ryan Miller wouldn’t fill the gap in net while waiting for Eddie Lack to learn the starters role, was the convention thinking by many in and out of market.
How could so many be so wrong?
Henrik and Daniel were resurgent, helped at the start by Radim Vrbata, and at the end by past linemate Alex Burrows. They brought the magic back to “Sedinery” and ended up as scoring leaders, again. The defensive scheme from last year was returned to one this season that benefitted those with good skating skills and the willingness to make a solid pass instead of jamming it up the boards, and the veterans played it to a tee.
Nick Bonino burst out of the gates by scoring and then settled into a 200-foot game along the way, but his line still offered up offence when teamed with Vrbata, and the second line was once again a game-to-game scoring threat. Ryan Miller was steady, giving way to Eddie Lack, and the Canucks beat every big name team on the block.
How will all that help them in their quest to knock off the Flames in the first round of the playoffs? The same way it helped them secure home ice for the journey to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup: Belief.
It started with a management group that saw a core that could still produce. It continued with a coach who would give his players a longer look before reluctantly changing their roles on the team, and it came to fruition late February when Miller went down due to injury and Lack came up big in his absence.
There will be lots of talk and chitter-chatter about the x’s and o’s of how Calgary plays versus the style Vancouver offers up. There will be mentions of the Flames back end and how dangerous they are offensively, and how they are never out of a game when even down by a few goals, just like the Canucks.
There will be comparables in Calgary’s top line sprinkled with youth versus the Canucks top line loaded with experience, and in the end most people will agree that this series will be very close. The Canucks has the edge in goal, the Flames have a more flamboyant defensive group that can play well in both ends, and both teams feel they have depth scoring.
So that leaves us with the intangibles, like cohesiveness when times are tough, or big plays or saves when the game is on the line, or even a veteran coach pushing his team forward at every turn versus a first-time NHL head coach supporting his players through thick and thin.
But I think the edge the Canucks have on the Flames, in a series that will have more turns than the Sea-to-Sky Highway, is that the Canucks BELIEVE they can win, moreso than the Flames.
Tough to describe on paper, but it will unfold before our eyes.
Canucks in six.