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Sedin feels this season will be different

by Dave Lozo
The Vancouver Canucks made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in two of the previous three seasons, and each time it was the same tale of glory and woe -- win the Northwest Division and earn the No. 3 seed just to be sent home after a second-round loss.

On Sunday night, they captured their third division title in four years by beating the Minnesota Wild, 4-3, in overtime. With three games to go, the Canucks are just about locked into the No. 3 seed yet again, five points behind the second-place Chicago Blackhawks with only three games remaining.

Are the Canucks walking down that all-too-familiar path to playoff disappointment?

Henrik Sedin, the League's leading scorer with 106 points, says this season's team is special.

"I think you only get a few chances with a team like we have this year, maybe just one," the Canucks' 29-year-old center said. "You got to take the chance. I think maybe most of the younger guys, if you get into the playoffs early in your career, you think it's going to happen every year. It's tough to get into the playoffs and it's tough to do something there, too.

"We feel we have a great chance this year. So you have to take it when you get it."

A lot has changed for the Canucks since last season, some of it the names on their roster, some of it changes for the better from players who have called Vancouver home for a while.

The two biggest offseason departures were center Mats Sundin, who retired after signing for the Canucks' final 41 regular-season games last season, and veteran defenseman Mattias Ohlund, who took the big bucks being offered by the Tampa Bay Lightning and fled via free agency.

But the Canucks did more than enough to fill those gaps before the season.

General Manager Mike Gillis snagged Mikael Samuelsson from the Detroit Red Wings, signing him to a three-year, $7.5 million deal, with "deal" being the operative word. Samuelsson has reached a career-high in goals with 30 (he had 30 combined the last two seasons) and points with 53.

On top of all that, Samuelsson brings his experience from his time in Detroit, where he was an important part of the Red Wings' runs to the Stanley Cup Final the last two seasons.

"He's come from a winning team, so he knows what it's all about," Sedin said. "He's been in Detroit where they have a lot of veteran guys. He's been through it all with those guys. He's meant a lot to us this year and he's going to mean a lot to us throughout the playoffs."

Replacing Ohlund's leadership and grit on the blue line was a daunting task, so Gillis turned to the San Jose Sharks and acquired Christian Ehrhoff, a potent offensive defenseman who has helped turn the Canucks' power play from one that was just average last season into one that is ranked fifth this season.

Ehrhoff ranks 10th among defensemen in power-play points with 23 and is one of the many reasons why the Canucks rank second in the NHL in goals scored with 256.

Last season, Vancouver finished 11th with 243 goals.

"We can score goals. That hasn't been the case maybe in years past," Sedin said. "I think we still have to focus on cutting down chances defensively, because we know we can put up goals with Washington and San Jose and those teams.

"Offensively, I don't think we're going to have a problem."

On top of the infusion of new faces, some familiar ones might have acquired some added confidence thanks to their Winter Olympic experience.

Ryan Kesler was on his way to his best season in the NHL before he took the ice for Team USA. His 54 points in the first 61 games were just five less than what he totaled in 82 games last season.

Since the Olympics, where he scored 2 goals to help the U.S. win a silver medal, he's taken his game to new heights. Kesler has 8 goals and 12 assists in 18 post-Olympic games in what has been a breakout season.

Even more importantly, Roberto Luongo shed the label of a goalie who can't win the big game, backstopping Canada to a gold medal on home soil after having everything dumped on his shoulders when he replaced Martin Brodeur after the preliminary round. He won four-straight games, including the gold-medal game against the United States in overtime.

Sedin said showing he can handle that pressure only can help Luongo.

"Him being part of a winning team like that is always going to help," Sedin said. "I think it was good for him. He played four games where it was like a seventh game in a seven-game series and he won all of them, so I think it was great for him."

Perhaps the biggest difference between last season and this season is the transformation of Sedin, who never had more than 82 points in a season until now. In the race for the Art Ross Trophy, he holds a four-point lead on Washington's Alex Ovechkin, who has played 11 fewer games than Sedin due to injuries and suspensions, and a nine-point lead on Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.

"I think we always try to get better every year and I think it's a process over a long period of time. We've worked harder every summer, so it feels nice that the hard work has paid off this year." -- Henrik Sedin

What's elevated Sedin from being a very good player to possibly the League's Most Valuable Player?

Even he's at a loss to explain it.

"I can't really put a finger on it. It's one of those things where a lot of different things that have come together," Sedin said. "(Alexandre) Burrows is having a career year (35 goals), Daniel (Sedin) is playing better than ever, too (78 points in 60 games).

"I think we always try to get better every year and I think it's a process over a long period of time. We've worked harder every summer, so it feels nice that the hard work has paid off this year."

Now Sedin hopes it will pay off in the playoffs.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter at: @DLozoNHL

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