ITCHING TO PLAY
Watching Ryan Kesler
interviewed by the swarm of media who've swooped into Vancouver for the opening round of the playoffs is like seeing the cat that swallowed the canary.
Kesler skated in his first full practice with the Canucks since his regular season ending hip surgery on January 29th and to the untrained eye, he looked good enough to lace them up on Wednesday night.
"Today was my first full skate and it felt good out there, so that's a good sign," said Kesler. "I'll just go day by day.
"I haven't had any real contact yet. Do I want to play? Yes. Am I capable of it? I don't know. It's one of those things that until you get contact you don't know."
The 23-year-old centerman skated on the fourth line with Alexandre Burrows
and Jeff Cowan during Tuesday's drills and didn't appear to be lagging behind any of his teammates on the quick laps around the ice.
"Ryan's been skating hard for a couple of weeks here," said head coach Alain Vigneault. "He's been on a couple of optional practices, this was his first team practice, he looked good on the ice and we'll see how he feels in the next couple of days."
But as is the case in every playoff series - coaches and players alike know better than to tip their hand to their post season adversaries. Kesler wouldn't nail down a definite day for his impending return.
"You're definitely going to see me in this round," he said. "I guess you guys will just have to wait and see." NO SECRETS
The coaching staffs from both teams by now have fast-forwarded and rewound enough video on their opponents - they should be able to tell what size skates each player wears and how they tape their sticks.
The only thing left to do is play the games and see which team will be able to deliver on their meticulous game plan and which team might wilt under the pressure of competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"They'll be no secrets out there," said Vigneault. "They've analyzed us and we've analyzed them to death. It's going to be a matter of going out there and playing.
"Whichever team can execute the best and whichever team can make the other team pay for their mistakes is probably the team that's going to come out on the top of this series."
Every player approaches high pressure games differently. Most stick to the same routines that have proven successful throughout the year, while others rely on advice from proven playoff performers to get a sense of what to expect once the puck drops.
"I'm looking forward to the pressure of the game and the challenge," said Kevin Bieksa
of his first playoff experience. "I know that goes up a lot but I'm still pretty sure there's a puck on the ice and six guys on each team - so there's not much changing there. I'll just try and stay focused and play like I have been all year."
Having seasoned playoff warrior Willie Mitchell a few stalls down in the dressing room and as a defensive partner on the ice will surely keep Bieksa's heart-rate within normal levels.
"I'll try and stay even keel and not get too high and not get too low," said the usually mellow Bieksa. "Talking to a lot of guys, that's the key to the playoffs - stay focused and don't get too excited or don't get too down on yourself when something happens."
Having a calm and experienced player like Brendan Morrison to keep things in perspective can't hurt either. Brendan's played in 41 post season games and says the experiences the Canucks have been through together this year will galvanize them when games mean the most.
"What we have to do as a team is just draw upon our regular season games - a lot of tight games and one goal games," said Morrison. "Obviously everyone knows the level rises up, it's more physical and it's more of a grind.
"It's just a matter of how you handle the moment. Don't get caught up in too much. Just stay on an even keel and just go out and play." BUZZING
Stars goaltender Marty Turco knows all about the pressure cooker of the post season. He's tasted sweet victory and been bitten by bitter defeat.
"Every year you have something to prove," said Turco. "I always have something to prove to myself and that's goes with winning in the past and losing in the past. Every year is a new opportunity and a new chapter to become a winner.
"Mistakes are going to be a big part," added Turco. "You can never be perfect out there, you can only take advantage of the chances you can get and keep trying to get as many as possible."
Vancouver streets are becoming cluttered with cars adorned with Canucks flags and the anticipation in the city is quickly reaching a fever pitch.
The excitement of Towel Power begins on Wednesday night and the coach likes his players frame of mind heading into the best of seven matchup.
"It's going to come down to the mindset of the team and how the team is playing," said Vigneault. "In our case, I think we're ready for this. All year long we've been in tight games and we've battled hard.
"I think our guys feel good about their game and feel good about their teammates. The players are feeling the buzz around the city and they're excited. I think our mindset is what it needs to be right now."