Holding their own in wild West
Canucks played just as mean and nasty as their conference competition
It's hard to know when the forces of evil kidnapped the Western Conference and held it for ransom in Jacques Lemaire's basement.
The L.A. Kings Stanley Cup victory? Maybe.
But, long before the Kings hoisted the chalice, the darkness had already taken hold in St. Louis, in Nashville, in Phoenix, in Minnesota.
The erosion of the Detroit Red Wings? That might have had more to do with it.
When the Wings were winning, there was still the idea that you could have success with speed and skill. When they began to deteriorate, it became easier to align yourself with Satan. But, however it happened, make no mistake this is the world in which the Vancouver Canucks now find themselves in the West.
It is a violent world. It's an unforgiving world. And the only way to have success in that world is to be as mean and ugly as the cloven-hoofed opposition.
"That's the way a lot of teams in the West are having success now," Alex Burrows said before the eventful clash at The Rog between the Canucks and Kings.
"It's not the most exciting style of hockey, but it's effective."
But so was the game the Canucks offered. Saturday night, the Canucks did what few teams have been able to date against the Kings and the final score was only part of the story.
The more important development on this night was the Canucks willingness to confront the Kings on their own terms, to get in the battle lines and go all Braveheart on the team that exposed them in last season's playoffs.
It started early when newcomer Tom Sestito - in, perhaps, the greatest debut by a Canuck since Pavel Bure's first game - rattled Colin Fraser, fought Jordan Nolan and it then kept up all night.
Kevin Bieksa slammed Anze Kopitar into the boards. Andrew Alberts rocked Kyle Clifford.
That both players took penalties on the plays in question is completely irrelevant. Against teams like the Kings, you can't take a backward step because, like all great teams, they can smell fear and they smelled it in the playoffs last spring.
Saturday night, there was no reverse gear to the Canucks' game, no fear. You just wonder if they can find this level of engagement on the majority of nights.
"I thought Tommy [Sestito] set the tone early with a big hit in the middle and then had a fight," Burrows said. "That was really good for us. You don't want to abuse it, but once in a while they're good to set the tone and show you're ready to battle."
There were other ways on this night. The bigger, more physical Andrew Alberts drew into the lineup for Keith Ballard and was a difference-maker. Mason Raymond had a big game playing head-to-head against Mike Richards.
But, with the Canucks, it usually begins and ends with their best players and, Saturday night, the Sedins and Burrows went plus-two while playing head-to-head against Anze Kopitar's line.
Last April, that line wore the Canucks out and Dustin Brown was easily the best player in the series. Saturday night, Brown and Kopitar were complete non-factors.
"I think every time you go up against a top line you look at it as a great challenge," Henrik said. "A lot of times it's way more fun to play these games where you know you have to beat your line."
OK, we should point out both goals scored by the Sedin line didn't come against Kopitar's line. But, again, the larger story was their willingness to battle, to get greasy. Henrik took a punch in a scrum. He also gave the stick to Kopitar.
"They like to hit and they like to play it tight," Henrik said. "We like that."
Funny, it doesn't show every night, but it was hard to miss on this night.
"We didn't talk about it but we wanted to make sure we had a good game against them," Burrows said. "They were dominant last year in the playoffs and they're one of the best lines in the league. This was something we wanted to prove to ourselves."
They made their point. Now they just have to remember to make it again when the playoff start.
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