VANCOUVER - Chris Tanev finally got his big chance Friday – and he did not disappoint.
After being a spare part for most of the playoffs, the Canucks rookie defenceman made his Stanley Cup finals debut in Vancouver's 1-0 victory in Game 5 against the Boston Bruins.
He contributed to a strong defensive effort as the Canucks moved within one game of the first Stanley Cup in their 40-year history.
“The first period, I was a little jittery,” said Tanev. “The legs didn’t feel so good. I was a little nervous. But after that, I felt fine.”
Before the game, Tanev called the opportunity “a dream come true."
He logged 12:15 of ice time playing alongside Andrew Alberts, registered a blocked shot and even helped set up Tanner Glass for a scoring chance. But the winger fanned on his shot at an empty net.
“The puck just rolled on him,” said Tanev. “We won, so that’s all that matters.”
Tanev got the call after Vancouver's depleted defensive corps struggled in a pair of one-sided losses that erased the Canucks' 2-0 series lead.
“The first period, I felt real slow,” said Tanev. “The pace was pretty fast. But after that, I felt pretty comfortable.”
His opportunity came as the Canucks tried to deal with the losses of Dan Hamhuis, who suffered an undisclosed injury in Game 1, and journeyman Aaron Rome, who is out for the rest of the series after receiving a four-game suspension for his hit on Boston's Nathan Horton in Game 3.
“I was just trying to make it simple, stay calm, and (not) give away the puck,” said Tanev.
Veteran Keith Ballard, who by his own admission struggled in Game 4 in Boston, was scratched in favour of the first-year pro. Tanev, a 21-year-old Toronto native was never drafted and signed as a free agent with the Canucks last May after helping little-known Rochester Institute of Technology reach the NCAA Frozen Four.
“Chris (Tanev), every time we've needed him this year, showed a lot of poise,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “He can take a hit to make a play and move the puck real well. I was confident that putting him in and putting him with (Alberts), that it would work out real well for us and it did.”
“I thought he played very well,” said Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa. “Everyone saw the way he played, very consistent, very cool with the puck.
"I don’t want to use the same drivel over and over, but he could play with a cigarette in his mouth.”
Starting the season with the AHL's Manitoba Moose, Tanev was not considered likely to wear a Canucks uniform any time soon. But he was called up to Vancouver in January when the defence corps was hit by a series of injuries.
Although he was not expected to stay long, he spent most of the second half of the season with the Canucks, suiting up for 29 games. He was returned to Manitoba late in the campaign once the injured defencemen got healthy and was recalled in mid-May after Manitoba's season ended and was relegated to skating with minor-leaguers and extra players.
But coach Vigneault soon invited him to skate with the big club and he got into two games in the Western Conference final against San Jose as more defensive health problems created opportunities.
In considering Tanev for Game 5, Vigneault opted for the slight rookie's puck-moving skills. But Tanev showed that he could handle himself against the Bruins.
“All the guys in this league are big, strong, fast, (and) they can score,” he said. “So I was just putting myself in their position and not get outmuscled.”
Bieksa said the coaching staff and players have considerable confidence in Tanev.
"He's come in and he's played really solid, very consistently all year," said Bieksa. "And that's the thing. He doesn't have too many ups and downs. For a young defenceman, that's a great compliment."