VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks got back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs by balancing their minutes and rolling four lines. They don't plan to change that system against the Calgary Flames after losing Game 1 in the Western Conference First Round on Wednesday, even if it keeps their top players on the bench in the third period.
Top-line forwards Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin each played less than five minutes in a third period that saw the Flames turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win. Daniel Sedin was eighth in regular-season scoring with 76 points, but only two Canucks forwards played less in the third.
When Flames defenseman Kris Russell scored the winning goal with 29.6 seconds left in regulation, it came against the Canucks' third defensive pairing and a line centered by 20-year-old rookie Bo Horvat that was caught out on the ice for more than a minute.
That left first-year coach Willie Desjardins answering lots of questions about his player deployment after the Canucks practiced Thursday.
"We play every game to win that game. If we burn up our energy then we'll worry about that for the next game. It's not that we don't play to win that game," Desjardins said. "At the same time, the Sedins play their best game when they're fresh. If they're not fresh they won't be as successful. If you ask them I think they'll say the same thing."
The Sedins agreed Desjardins' balanced approach kept them fresher this season, but now that the playoffs have started it's fair to ask what they are being saved for. Daniel and Henrik did everything but score in Game 1, creating several great chances along with linemate Alexandre Burrows while posting the best possession statistics among forwards on either team; they were plus-11 and plus-13 in Shot Attempts (SAT), respectively. Yet they played less than Nick Bonino (minus-15 SAT), Chris Higgins (minus-13), Jannik Hansen (minus-3) and Ronalds Kenins (minus-4), who was playing his first NHL playoff game and was on the ice for Russell's game-winning goal.
"As a player you always want to play more, but it's up to the coach and he is going to do what's best for the team. So we have to trust him," Daniel Sedin said. "It's a fine line, though. We could have probably played a bit more but this is how we played throughout the year."
Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa was the only player who missed practice Thursday, but Desjardins said he would be fine for Game 2 of the best-of-7 series Friday in Vancouver. (10 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports)
If the division of ice time wasn't a surprise to the Canucks in Game 1, their approach after the Flames tied it eight minutes into the third period was. Instead of sticking to a game plan that had been working well to that point, Vancouver pushed too hard for the go-ahead goal and ended up giving the Flames several odd-man rushes.
The Canucks came in as the fifth most-experienced team in the NHL playoffs, but were the ones that got away from their game against a Calgary team with five rookies and seven playoff first-timers.
Higgins admitted he was surprised.
"Yeah, a little bit," he said. "It's also a good sign that we want to win and we think we could have scored another goal, I guess you take it both ways. It's a lesson learned that we need to keep playing the right way and the same discipline style against these guys."