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Canucks get hot by keeping their cool

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Vancouver Canucks realized quickly after losing to Chicago in the conference semifinals last season that their lack of discipline was a factor in why they went home after six games.

"There are no secrets that our last two playoffs have ended with undisciplined games," defenseman Kevin Bieksa said late Thursday here at the team's hotel.

The Canucks vowed back in September to not let misguided energy get in their way of being a top team in the regular season and a contender come late May. Vancouver is holding true to its promise. The proof came Wednesday at Rogers Arena, where the Canucks toasted the Sharks 7-3 to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Game 3 is set for Friday at HP Pavilion (9 p.m. ET; Versus, CBC, RDS).

While the Sharks, specifically Ben Eager, started to run around, the Canucks stayed about as calm and composed as a team could be in that type of situation. It wasn't until the final seconds of the game when Vancouver started to engage in some of the post-whistle shenanigans, but even then Maxim Lapierre wouldn't accept Ryane Clowe's challenge to fight.

Lapierre was taunted by the Sharks bench, but he simply pointed to his head, an indication that he was telling them he was keeping his while they were losing theirs.

"In years past we were always the team that was undisciplined and you can really see a change in the overall team," said Ryan Kesler, who may be the Canucks’ poster boy for this change in discipline because in years past his short fuse was problematic. "We don't get rattled out there. We stay as even-keeled as possible."

It didn't take coach Alain Vigneault and GM Mike Gillis long to figure out why this was necessary. The Canucks came undone in three of their four losses to the Blackhawks in last year's playoffs. Game 4 might have been the worst.

Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows and Mason Raymond combined for four minor penalties in a span of 4:40 in the second period, leading to two power-play goals by Chicago. The Blackhawks scored four power play goals in the game and won 7-4 to take a 3-1 lead in a series that effectively ended that night even though Vancouver would go to Chicago and win Game 5.

The Canucks lost in Game 6, 5-1, and Mikael Samuelsson was guilty of a hook and a cross check that led to a 10-minute misconduct when the game was already out of reach.

Vancouver was similarly undisciplined in the 2009 series. It was called for eight penalties totaling 32 minutes in the third period of a 6-3 loss in Game 2. Shane O'Brien and Bieksa lost it toward the end of the second period in Game 5. Eighty seconds later Dustin Byfuglien scored the game-tying goal. Dave Bolland scored the winner with Bieksa in the penalty box at the 14:55 mark of the third period.

"We've learned from our mistakes," Bieksa said. "We figured out pretty early in the season that if we're going to be disciplined and let the other team take the penalties, stay away from those scrums and all that stuff and focus on the right things, it was going to benefit us."

Let's not kid ourselves -- the Canucks aren't totally innocent either. Remember Game 4 against Chicago?

Vancouver ran amuck in the third period to the tune of 11 penalties totaling 57 minutes in a 7-2 loss. The Hawks were leading 5-1 going into the third period, but the Canucks, who were already ahead in the series, were clearly looking to send some type of message heading into Game 5.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan made a point to reference that game specifically on Thursday.

"We were undisciplined in the third period (Wednesday). I'm the first to admit that, and our team has to be a lot better," McLellan said. "But, you know, I refer back, we're always watching other games, I think it was a month ago today that Chicago beat them 7-2. There was a lot going on on the ice at that time. Alain (Vigneault) decided just to leave it at that. That's what we're choosing to do."

The difference, though, is in the when.

"In years past we were always the team that was undisciplined and you can really see a change in the overall team. We don't get rattled out there. We stay as even-keeled as possible."
-- Ryan Kesler

Vancouver came undone after Game 4 against the Hawks was already decided. San Jose lost its cool when Game 2 against Vancouver was still very much in doubt.

It was 3-2 when Patrick Marleau dropped the gloves with Bieksa, which led to Eager taking a run at Daniel Sedin. The game started to unravel from there as the Sharks committed nine penalties totaling 42 minutes in the third period. Vancouver scored twice on the power play.

"They took a couple of undisciplined penalties that let us open up the scoring," Kesler said. "For us, we're focused on us and the way we need to play, and obviously that helps our power play when they're taking penalties like that."

Maybe the Sharks will be better in the discipline department in Game 3, but judging from how the Canucks responded Wednesday, they play on playing their systems and focusing whistle-to-whistle no matter what happens.

It's a promise the Canucks made back in September, and it's one they plan on keeping all the way through June.

"It used to be difficult to turn the other cheek and we thought we had to fight back, push back," Bieksa said. "We've been doing it for so long now that it's kind of habit now to turn the other cheek, to take a punch in the head. I don't think it's as big of a deal for us anymore."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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