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Bieksa sees his team ready for Cup run

by Mike G. Morreale
Kevin Bieksa said he believes the Vancouver Canucks deserved a better fate in the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons.

Back-to-back six-game losses in the Western Conference semifinals, courtesy the Chicago Blackhawks, will do that to one's psyche. While the results haven't sat well with the defenseman, Bieksa also feels lessons learned in those losses only will strengthen the group in its pursuit of the big trophy this season.

"Losing when you think you deserve better is a tough thing," Bieksa told

In Bieksa's first playoff run with the Canucks, in 2007, the club defeated Dallas in seven games before suffering a five-game setback to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks in the conference semifinals.

"I don't think when we got beat out (by Anaheim) that we really felt like we deserved to beat them and we kind of just accepted it," Bieksa said. "I think the last couple years with Chicago, we felt like we deserved a better fate. Certainly last year, when we felt like we were a better team. But they played better when it counted.

"It's still a bitter feeling every time we play Chicago. Every time we're in that building (United Center), it's there. But the only way to get rid of it is to beat those guys … to get farther in the playoffs."

Getting past the playoff hump is just one more hurdle for the Canucks and the 29-year-old Bieksa, who has met countless challenges head-on during his career.

"I dealt with adversity right away," Bieksa recalled. "In my first NHL training camp I got a high ankle sprain on the second day. I was kind of penciled in to make the team as the sixth defenseman and had high hopes but ended up missing three months of the season, so that was tough."

Bieksa also has had to overcome two serious skate lacerations -- one in November 2007 to his calf that sidelined him 47 games, and another to his leg in December 2009 that put him out for 27 games. He's also been the subject of trade rumors the past three seasons. When the Canucks acquired defensemen Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis this past summer, Bieksa was thought to be on the block again.

"He came in here with the right attitude and the right focus," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault told the Globe and Mail. "There was a lot of speculation and stuff going on around him, and he kept his focus on what he had to do, and not on the speculation."

Some would argue that Bieksa's defensive-zone play this season is reminiscent of his breakout 2006-07 season, when he earned the team's best defenseman and unsung hero awards. He had a career-high 12 goals and 134 penalty minutes that season.

"Mentally, I've learned to deal with the injuries and the trade talk … that's been happening the last couple of years, but I've received good advice from some veteran guys about that type of thing," Bieksa said. "I thought this summer was a little bit easier to deal with. It's prioritizing now. I have two kids, so I'm busy in the summer. I don't have time to read or worry about that kind of stuff, so I took care of my own business in the summer and have fun doing it."

When asked if he prefers being called an offensive-defenseman as opposed to a shut-down defenseman, Bieksa took the alternative.

"I consider myself a complete defenseman," he said. "I don't like labels because I think a shut-down guy can also contribute offensively. I've always been a guy who takes pride in all facets of the game. I don't just want to be a good shut-down guy, offensive guy or skill guy. I want to be a guy that works hard, a grinder, a physical guy … a fighter. I want to be everything. It's something that I learned from my dad at a young age."

Bieksa is already all those things, in fact.

He entered Thursday's game at the Rangers with 6 goals and 16 points in 41 games this season. He ranks among the team leaders in hits (68), blocked shots (62) and takeaways (29), while playing an integral role on the power-play and penalty-killing units. He's engaged in five fights in each of the past two seasons and has mixed it up twice this season.

"There are a lot of selfless players on our roster ... I think, to a man, if you asked the guys, they would rather win a game 1-0 than lose a game and get a hat trick. That's the type of guys we have in our room and that's the type of player you need to be successful."
-- Kevin Bieksa

Indeed, Bieksa has proven to be quite the complete defender.

"Winning is the most important thing right now," Bieksa said. "I think that's what makes our team so special. There are a lot of selfless players on our roster. Guys are having good years and it's because the team is playing so well that guys look better and the numbers are higher. I think, to a man, if you asked the guys, they would rather win a game 1-0 than lose a game and get a hat trick. That's the type of guys we have in our room and that's the type of player you need to be successful."

Bieksa has high hopes that regular-season success this season will carry over into a long and prosperous playoff run.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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