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Canucks back dealing with playoff goalie questions

by Kevin Woodley /

VANCOUVER -- It wouldn't be the Stanley Cup Playoffs here without questions about goaltending.

With memories of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider controversies lingering, first-year Vancouver Canucks coach Willie Desjardins faces a similliar situation this season, even after naming Eddie Lack as the starting goalie for Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday (10 p.m ET; CBC, USA, TVA Sports).

Lack starts ahead of Ryan Miller, if for no other reason than Miller said he is not fully recovered from spraining his right knee Feb. 22. Desjardins said Miller is ready to play when needed. When Miller is ready, the Canucks will once again face tough decisions.

"It makes a difference knowing which goaltenders are going to start, and this time of year you look for all the advantages you can get," Desjardins said. "It's not that you don't want to share information, but you want to win, so you try to find every edge."

The goaltenders knew who would start Game 1 but are played along with their coach. They know about Vancouver's long history of goaltending controversies and are being careful not to create another one.

Lack was Vancouver's third-string goalie during the nearly two-year Luongo-Schneider soap opera that finally ended after two early playoff exits that included each goalie starting games. Schneider was traded to the New Jersey Devils at the 2013 NHL Draft, but Lack was caught in another drama when coach John Tortorella picked him to start the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic ahead of Luongo, who was traded to the Florida Panthers a few days later.

"Obviously I learned a lot from the Luongo-Schneider saga and Luongo and me," Lack said. "From my perspective, I kind of feel like you just have to be smart about it and not say too much."

Miller's injury has dulled the inquiries for now. He came back to play the regular-season finale Saturday but was admittedly rusty making 23 saves in a 6-5 win against the Edmonton Oilers and said afterward he is still in "injury recovery." Miller feels good enough to back up Lack but said after practice Tuesday he is not 100 percent.

"Stability-wise I am in a good place, but I still have to get some of the quickness back," Miller said. "I definitely think there is 10-15 percent to go to where you are 100 percent feeling good, feeling strong."

The questions likely will get more pointed as Miller nears 100 percent, especially if Lack can carry his strong late-season play into his first NHL playoffs. Lack is 12-6-1 with a .927 save percentage since Miller injured his knee, and 18-13-4 this season with a .921 save percentage that is higher than Miller's .911. Lack mentioned Miller having a better record (29-15-1) and said he has learned a lot from the veteran.

"Not so much talking with him, more watching him play and seeing that even if you let three or four goals in you still have a great chance of winning if you make that extra save no one expects you to make," Lack said. "That's the biggest thing I feel in his game. He finds ways to keep his team in it and gives them a chance to fight back."

Lack may have earned the chance to fight back himself if things don't start well, even with Miller's 53 games of playoff experience on the bench. The past two months were filled with bounce-back games from the 6-foot-3 Swede, whether it was overcoming a five-goal loss to the Winnipeg Jets by making 36 saves in a crucial 2-1 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings, or settling down after an early goal in that big game against the Kings.

"He's played some big games down the stretch. He can handle it as well as Miller can," captain Henrik Sedin said of Lack, mindful his coach had not confirmed the starter to the media. "If Miller starts, he's been on big stages too, so we're confident in both goalies."

Sedin has said that a lot over the past three seasons. Miller signed to a three-year, $6 million contract last summer that runs through 2017, and Lack can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, so Canucks players can expect to be answering more questions about goalie controversies.

In the meantime, they can talk about having a good option should Lack stumble in his first playoffs.

"I feel confident in my knee and I feel confident in traffic now that I got into a game," Miller said. "I just want to do everything a little bit quicker and a little bit stronger in my shooting lanes. I fell out of some shooting lanes with some habits you get when you don't face pucks in a while and get a little but weak in the lower body or your endurance isn't high enough. You tend to fall into saves and you are not holding on until that last little second. So that's what is coming back and feeling pretty good in practice."

When that comes all the way back for Miller, so will the questions. Lack is prepared for it, even if he's not thinking past Game 1. He learned from Luongo and Schneider not to talk about the future.

"Those guys stayed friends and in the locker room supported each other, but I felt sometimes maybe they were a little too honest in public that they wanted to play so bad, and it definitely spun it off a little more than I thought it could have," Lack said. "It's just because it's here in Vancouver. I feel like it's just because it happened before so now everyone is trying to spin it more.

"It's really easy to try and jump on that train."

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