CHICAGO — Alex Burrows and the rest of the Vancouver Canucks feel like they know a little something about adversity and in their mind it's not being tied at a game apiece in a best-of-seven Western Conference semi-final series.
Losing one of your teammates, Luc Bourdon, in a motorcycle accident last summer. That's adversity.
Throw in an eight-game losing streak in January, the loss of your best player to injury for nearly two months and the death of one of your teammate's fiancee in a car crash and it's tough to argue that the Canucks have had to weather more than their share of adversity this season.
"We have faced more adversity than anyone all year," Burrows said Monday after the Canucks practised at the United Center, where Game 3 of this series goes tonight.
"It started last summer, we faced some in January when we couldn't win a game, we faced a few injuries and then we lose one game and you are talking about adversity," Burrows added with a slight shake of his head.
The Canucks did not like all the doom and gloom that resulted when they coughed up a 2-0 lead, dropped Game 2 by a score of 6-3 to snap a five-game playoff winning streak and lost key defenceman Sami Salo to injury.
There's no denying they are a better team with Salo in the lineup, but the Canucks insist they are far from chopped liver without him.
"He is a huge part of this team, but you guys make a bigger deal of it than we do," Burrows said about the loss of Salo, who was left home in Vancouver to nurse what the team is calling a lower-body injury. "Sami has been hurt before with this team and the guys have been stepping up.
"No one here thought we would sweep every team, we knew we were going to face some tough games and we're facing a good team. They are a smart and a young and exciting team. But it's 1-1 and we're right in it. I don't know why all negatives. We're a good team, we're fine and we'll battle back tomorrow night."
They had better. Having lost home-ice advantage, the Canucks need a split here in the Windy City to regain it.
To make that happen, the Canucks know they must hang onto a lead when they get one and play better in even-strength situations. All three of their goals Saturday night came on the power play. They generated nothing offensively five-on-five.
"I do think right now they have been the better team five-on-five," Canuck coach Alain Vigneault said of the Hawks on Monday. "We need to make higher-percentage plays on the ice and if we do that I think we'll be in good shape."
"I don't think we're playing in their end enough five-on-five," added defenceman Kevin Bieksa. "It's kind of our bread and butter, our play down low. We have some big forwards and the (Sedin) twins who are great at cycling, so playing in their end and wearing down their defence, especially the guys who play the big minutes, is key for us."
That is also a key for the Blackhawks, who with Salo out plan to go even harder at the Vancouver defencemen.
"We saw that in the last series with Calgary," said Chicago forward Patrick Sharp. "They had some injuries at the back end and I think it kind of affected their team game. You never want to see guys get hurt . . . but losing Salo should be a loss for them. It's definitely a focus for us, to use our speed and be as physcial as we can on those guys."
"We have to target some of the other D now,' added Hawk winger Adam Burish. "Those other guys are going to have the bulls-eyes on their back . . .with Salo out, they are down to five of their main D. Now we are going to have to target more of their guys, we are going to have to try and hunt a few more of them down."
Just how the Canucks respond to the loss of Salo, perhaps their best all-round defenceman, is one of the keys to the rest of this series. In a somewhat surprising move, Vigneault had Ossi Vaananen paired with Willie Mitchell as Vancouver's shutdown duo in Monday's practice. Many had assumed Bieksa would rejoin Mitchell, his former blueline partner, but Bieksa skated Monday with Shane O'Brien, while Mattias Ohlund and Alex Edler remained together.
Vigneault did not want to discuss his defensive pairings for tonight's game.
"Not quite sure what we're going to do for a lineup tomorrow," he said. "We'll see what happens tomorrow."
Mitchell said he's fine with whomever he skates with. A pairing with Vaananen, who will play just his second playoff game with the Canucks tonight, also forces Mitchell to switch to the right from the left side on the Vancouver defence.
"Look at my career, first year Kevin Bieksa, second year Alex Edler, third year Sami Salo," Mitchell said with a laugh. "I'm used to it. It changes your reads a little bit when you are playing with different guys. Nothing too major."
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