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The Mitchell Hat Trick

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks
If the Vancouver Canucks weren't any good at killing penalties, there wouldn't be much chance that they'd be leading the series against the Dallas Stars 3-1.

Fortunately, they've got some of the most potent killers in the NHL.

Vancouver has been shorthanded 25 times this postseason - more than any of the other 15 teams in the playoffs.

Despite the motley numbers, they've only let in two goals for a 92 percent success rate. Last night, they turned it up a notch and killed all six Dallas power plays, including a lengthy five-on-three.

The five-on-three developed when Jeff Cowan was called on a hook off the face off, then five seconds later Josh Green got unlucky and hit a wobbly puck over the glass from the defensive zone. That gave the Stars a 1:55 five-on-three power play.

In most cases that's a gimme. But not against the Canucks.

Willie Mithcell, the Canucks defensive anchor, was on the ice for nearly all of the five-on-three, and was glad when the danger expired.

"It was like scoring a hat trick," said Mitchell. "I take a lot of pride in that stuff. It's a lot of satisfaction when you can kill off something like that."

The Stars were still able to generate some impressive chances on the five-on-three. Jere Lehtinen had two chances to convert a cross-crease passes, but misfired on both of them. When the shots did come, Roberto Luongo was there for the save.

"They're going to get chances," said Mitchell about five-on-threes. "It's a combination of doing a good penalty kill to keep those chances down, and the chances you do get, you need great saves from your goalie."

And Roberto Luongo knows a thing or two about how to make those.

Alex Burrows, who also played for the better half of the five-on-three, showed some gutsy moves to limit the Stars' chances, including a timely blocked shot at the point. "It was huge to kill that," said Burrows. "It was a confidence booster for our team and our PK, so it was nice to see that."

But the view of the penalty kill wasn't pleasant for Green, who had been a staple on the Canucks PK during the regular season until he was out with a knee injury.

"Any power play or any PK can mean the difference in the game," said Green. "It was a tough time to sit in that penalty box watching them kill a five on three."

Had he not been in the sin bin, he would have been a good candidate to help with the kill.

But Green, who saw his first action in game four since his knee injury, would go on to get 1:52 of short-handed time and 7:26 total by the end of the game. Though that time is down from what he would get before the injury, he felt good.

"I knew I wasn't going to play a lot of minutes coming back the first game," he said. "I just tried to give whatever I had for whatever they wanted me for."

Green said he was more concerned about his nerves than his knee when he first got out onto the ice, but settled down as the game went on. Even jumping into a penalty kill unit that had been tailored to defend against the Stars wasn't too hard for him.

"It felt good. I've been doing it all year," said Green about the PK. "Our principles stay the same. We stay in shooting lanes and we try and get a good forecheck on them. Just on their breakout there was a couple little things we needed to change, but in the zone everybody's responsibilities were the same. So it was easy coming back in that respect."

All season the Canucks' penalty killers have had good chemistry, known the system, and played smart. That has been a big reason the penalty kill has been successful in the last four playoff games.

"I think it's just all four guys being on the same page," said Burrows. "It's a team effort."

The Canucks have been examining the Stars' powerplay and have tweaked their penalty kill in order to shut down Dallas most effectively. If Tuesday night's game is any indication, they're quick studies.

"We've done a good job recently on their entry," says Mitchell. "They're usually pretty good at gaining entry to the zone with puck possession. We forced them to dump the puck, we won the battles on the wall, and got the puck out of our zone."

When the Stars have managed to gain the zone, Canuck forwards have played aggressively on the Stars big shooters like Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher and limited the chances from the blue line.

To be fair, the Stars don't have such a bad PK either. In fact, they're ranked first in the playoffs with a 95 percent success rate. But before giving the Stars too much credit, keep in mind that the Canucks have taken themselves off the power play nine of 22 chances to inflate the Stars' short-handed stats.

And there were a few times Tuesday night when Dallas was fortunate to escape the Canucks power play without conceding a goal.

The fact that Dallas is a strong short-handed team means that its more important than ever for the Vancouver PK players need to keep up their good work.

But Mitchell doesn't mind that challenge. "It's my role with the team," he says. "That's what I thrive in."
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