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Canucks feel they're now equipped to win a title

by Corey Masisak
For 39 seasons the Vancouver Canucks have tried to bring the Stanley Cup back to British Columbia for the first time since 1925.

Their quest in the franchise's 40th season will be a little different -- because this time, the Canucks are the favorites. Not only is Vancouver the top seed in its conference for the first time, the Canucks have clinched the first Presidents' Trophy in franchise history and will have home ice throughout the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Collecting a franchise-record 113 points (with the potential for four more) should raise the expectation level for most NHL teams, but Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin doesn't see it that way.

"Not at all -- playing in this market, it's no different this year than it has been in the past," Sedin said. "Media-wise, I don't think it's going to be. If we won four Stanley Cups in a row, the pressure is still going to be there like it is now. So that's not a difference.

"The only difference in the dressing room is that we have a better team from top to bottom. The players that the management brought in this summer has made us a lot better, and that's the only difference from the years past."

"The only difference in the dressing room is that we have a better team from top to bottom. The players that the management brought in this summer has made us a lot better, and that's the only difference from the years past."
-- Henrik Sedin

Henrik Sedin claimed League MVP honors last season with an NHL-best 112 points. His twin brother Daniel leads the League this season with 100 and is one of the top two candidates for MVP along with Anaheim's Corey Perry.

While the Sedins have cemented their place among the NHL's elite, it is the depth of Vancouver's roster that makes the Canucks favorites to capture the Stanley Cup. General manager Mike Gillis added defensemen Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard and forwards Manny Malholtra and Raffi Torres in the offseason, and young goaltender Cory Schneider took on a more prominent role to help alleviate Roberto Luongo's workload.

Injuries have ravaged Vancouver's defense corps, bit it is a testament to the depth there that the Canucks have continued to set the pace in the NHL. Malholtra will not play in the postseason because of an eye injury but trade deadline additions Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre should offset the loss.

The Canucks are currently playing without Hamhuis (concussion) and Alex Edler, who was developing into a No. 1-caliber defenseman before back surgery, but both could be back soon. In a year where many of the top Cup contenders have questions or even outright flaws, the Canucks have the most complete roster.

"In terms of pressure, I don't think this is any more extraordinary than any other year," Gillis said. "I do think expectations are heightened because this is a good team here, and they've displayed it throughout the course of the season. But to win in the playoffs in the National Hockey League you have to have a number of things that go your way. You need to have a little bit of luck, you need to have some calls that go your way by the officials, and all your players need to be their best."

The Chicago Blackhawks have ended Vancouver's hopes of securing the Cup in each of the past two seasons. Vancouver was the higher seed in 2009 but Chicago had finished the regular season with more points. Last spring, the Blackhawks were the higher seed and eventually went on to win the Cup.

Vancouver won Game 1 in both series, but Chicago's offensive prowess proved too much and the Blackhawks closed out both in six games. It is quite possible the Blackhawks will stand in Vancouver's way again this spring -- Chicago is currently in eighth place and, according to, the Blackhawks are slight favorites over the Anaheim Ducks to finish with the No. 8 seed and a date with the Canucks in the first round.

"The experience of losing two years in a row to the same team was one that was very difficult for a lot of people to accept," Gillis said. "However, we did it with a team that we don't think is as competitive as the team we have this year. We felt that Chicago had the best team top to bottom last year in the National Hockey League, and so we went about trying to bolster our core group of players, surround them with players that were like-minded, that were desperate to win and desperate to play on a good team, and were able to come away in the summer having filled a number of holes.

"So I think overall we feel more confident this year. We've learned from the experience of last year that if we stick to our game and play the way we want to play, we have the ability to beat most teams in this League on any given night. So I think our team right now is a very different team in terms of mindset that's come about through those two losses to Chicago, and hopefully we can translate it into success this year."

Added Sedin: "We played a better opponent. We could have beaten them, but at the same time I think we all felt that we lost against the best team. Looking back, I think that's how we feel. … In years past we would have lost in the first round, but we stuck with it and we won that series, and then we ended up losing against a better opponent. This year we've got a totally different team, and we feel as players that we have a better team. That's a different mindset this year."
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