ANAHEIM, Calif. (CP) - The Vancouver Canucks face a tough question.
If fatigue from a gruelling seven-game opening-round series was not a key factor in a lopsided 5-1 drubbing by the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Wednesday, than how can the team otherwise look to change its fortunes in the remainder of the series?
While most Canucks players at practice Thursday would not admit weariness was a contributing factor in Game 1, there is little doubt that a whirlwind 48 hours between ending their series with the Dallas Stars on Monday and opening play at Anaheim gave the team little time to recharge its batteries.
"I didn't really think we were going to be affected going into (the series) because we had quite a bit of momentum from Game 7," said Vancouver's Brendan Morrison. "We started well and had a lot of energy, then we took ourselves out of the game, that's been our problem."
After grabbing a 1-0 lead 7:07 after the opening face-off on a goal by Jeff Cowan, a bench minor for having too many men on the ice set up a power-play goal by Andy McDonald to draw Anaheim even.
The inability to clear the defensive zone led to a goal by Teemu Selanne and a quick odd-man rush set up a second goal by McDonald before the first period was over.
The Ducks smooth skating line of McDonald, Selanne and Chris Kunitz (three assists) was flying, but the Canucks were certainly not sharp in their coverage.
"I thought we had a good mind frame early, when things were good, as soon as that ended, we tried to stop working and took a lot of penalties," said centre Bryan Smolinski.
The lacklustre mixture of mental and physical mistakes could be the byproduct of their opening-round marathon quarter-final, which included a four-overtime game, one of three overtime contests in the series.
"We didn't have the game we wanted to have, maybe our energy level was not where it should have been," said Cowan. "We're hoping to recuperate and come in tomorrow and get a split."
The team did seem to be more up-tempo at an afternoon practice Thursday.
"We had a good off-day work out today, hopefully we can capitalize tomorrow," said Canucks veteran Trevor Linden.
Aside from some renewed energy, the Canucks may also be helped by the return of defenceman Sami Salo, who skated on his own for about 20 minutes before practice and briefly during the practice before leaving the ice.
"I was just out there to warm-up and to try to get the muscles used to skating again," said Salo, who missed Game 1 with back spasms. "We'll just have to see how my body responds."
The return of Salo could help goaltender Roberto Luongo's attempt to defeat the Ducks for the first time this season. Despite winning 47 games this year, Luongo was 0-3 against Anaheim during the regular season and yielded three goals on the first nine shots he faced Wednesday.
Although he has played 558 minutes of playoff hockey already this year, more than any other NHL player at this juncture, Luongo was quick to dismiss any suggestion he was tired Wednesday.
"I didn't have any problems with my energy level, I felt good," said Luongo.
The Ducks expect Luongo will be primed to improve his team's performance Friday.
"We know he is their best player, he's going to come back strong," said Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere.