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Canucks say this could be special spring

by Dave Lozo
VANCOUVER -- Special teams with a chance to do special things in the Stanley Cup Playoffs don't come around all that often.

If you ask Art Ross Trophy winner Henrik Sedin, the Canucks are one of those special teams with everything coming together right now, and this team offers him the best chance to win a Stanley Cup during his nine-year career.

"So far it is," Sedin said as the Canucks prepared for Thursday's playoff opener against Los Angeles. "We got three good offensive lines that can outscore other teams top three lines. But in the playoffs you win by playing good defense. We know we can do it in here. We haven't done it in the last couple weeks but we have to get back to that."

There are plenty of numbers to back up the claim that this Canucks team has the best opportunity of any of the Vancouver teams that went to the playoffs in two of the previous three years to win a Stanley Cup.

This season's edition posted 103 points to win the Northwest Division; the only team in recent years with more was the 2006-07 incarnation that had 105. But this club was plus-50 in goal differential while the '06-07 team was only plus-21.

Vancouver also had its best offensive season since the work stoppage, scoring a Western Conference-leading 272 goals -- something that helped cover up some of the defensive lapses that popped up during the final couple weeks of the regular season.

"No doubt," said Roberto Luongo when asked if this is the best Canucks team he's seen since arriving in Vancouver in 2006. "If you look at the goals we've scored this year, which is so much more since I've been here. The goal-differential, about 50 or 60 more goals for than again -- no doubt, this is the best chance we've had since I've been here."

A lot of Canucks are having career seasons all at the same time.

Sedin's 29 goals, 83 assists and 112 points were all career-bests. Twin brother Daniel's 85 points were also a career-high, and he did it while playing in just 63 games. Alex Burrows, who came out of nowhere to score 28 goals a season ago, had 35 more this season while riding shotgun with the Sedins. No. 2 center Ryan Kesler has taken his game to a new level, posting 25 goals and 50 assists for a career-high 75 points in 82 games.

Burrows could only marvel how everything has seemingly come together all at once for the Canucks.

"We got one of those best goalies in the world, we've got the second-best offense in the League and we're able to play good defense," said Burrows, who has been a Canuck since breaking into the League in 2005. "So for sure this is the best team I've been on."

The Canucks also added two new faces during the offseason that paid immediate dividends -- winger Mikael Samuelsson and defensive Christian Ehrhoff.

In Samuelsson, the Canucks added a 33-year-old veteran who was a big part of the Detroit Red Wings' runs to the Stanley Cup Final the last two seasons. He not only knows what to expect during the kind of long playoff push that has eluded the Canucks, he's a player who is also in the midst of a career year in Vancouver -- his 30 goals not only are a high-water mark for Samuelsson, but they match what he posted in Detroit in the last two seasons combined.

Ehrhoff is an offensive blueliner who is also having his best NHL season. His 14 goals and 44 points are -- yes, you guessed it -- his best offensive numbers since he entered the League in 2003-04. He's a big reason for the success of the Canucks' power play, which finished sixth in the NHL with a 20.9 percent efficiency.

Before Ehrhoff arrived in the offseason in a trade with the Sharks, the Canucks boasted the 17th-best power play in 2008-09 and 18th-best unit in 2007-08. On top of all that, he's a plus-36 and leads the team in ice time per game at 22:47.

It's fair to say that GM Mike Gillis knew what he was doing when he brought in Samuelsson and Ehrhoff.

"Sammy obviously won a Cup in Detroit and brings a lot to the table," Luongo said. "Christian's logged a lot of minutes for us as a guy who can move the puck up the ice, heavy shot. Those guys brought a lot to the table, to this team. They've contributed a lot and hopefully it continues in the next couple months here."

As great as everything has been in Vancouver this season, they don't award the Stanley Cup for outstanding regular seasons. Daniel Sedin put everything in perspective when asked about just how good the 2009-10 Canucks are.

"We had a few really good teams. This is up there for sure," he said. "It all depends on what we do now. The next few months is going to determine that. I think we have a chance. We just need to take care of business."

Vancouver's first chance to do just that will be Thursday night (10 ET, VS, CBC, RDS) when the Kings visit GM Place for Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series. The Canucks won three of the four regular-season meetings, including both games played in Vancouver.

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