It’s the final week of the regular season, and the Canucks have locked themselves into the Western Conference’s third seed. It’s their fifth straight division title.
The Sedins have been here before. So many times. But this time it feels different.
After this summer, they will turn 33 years old. They have one year left on their current six-year contracts. For the first time in their careers, the end is closer than the beginning.
They’re not the fresh-faced kids who got their first taste of the NHL playoffs a long 13 years ago. Henrik has been in 95 playoff games since. He can’t help but wonder, how many games does he have left?
The Canucks have nine players who are 30 years old or older. Another two, Chris Higgins and Derek Roy, will turn 30 this year. The last time a team with this many grizzled 30-somethings won the Stanley Cup it was 1994 and it was New York Rangers.
There’s a reality that hangs over this current Canucks group. Time is running out and this just may be their last stand.
“I think about it every day,” Henrik said. “The first couple of years, you went into the playoffs and everything was fun. It was an experience you learned from. But you never thought about it being your last time around or your last chance.
“It was learning from every round and every matchup.
“Now? Of course you think of it.”
Henrik believes the core group is better prepared than ever before. Given all they’ve been through, they should be. This is the group that in two years has gone from the exhaustion of reaching Game 7 of the Cup final to the bitterness of being ousted in the first round in five games.
As Cory Schneider, the team’s emerging leader, pointed out two weeks ago, the Canucks are done learning lessons. They’ve seen everything by now.
Well, almost everything.
But that wasn’t what Henrik was talking about.
This has been a fascinating year for the Sedins, one that started with many predicting it would be the start of their slide into retirement. They didn’t seem to be the same players who won Art Ross trophies and a Hart Trophy. They sure didn’t score like those players. Most have assumed they took a step back and most have said it’s becauseof age.
But instead of showing signs of diminishing skills, the Sedins have again discovered a way to raise their game. They have had yet another season that begs you to rethink the way you view them. Into their 30s, the Sedins continue to find ways to evolve in ways that make them and their team better.
They may not be pouring in points like they have in the past. They were never in the Art Ross race and didn’t finish in the top 10 in NHL scoring this year. Some of that is because of the power play that has been, at times, pathetic. And, of course, that is on them.
But, as Daniel pointed out, it would be more alarming if the Sedins were still cooking on the power play and it was their five-on-five play that suffered a tremendous drop-off.
The Sedins had a different role at even strength this year and their success or failure can’t be measured in points.
Without Ryan Kesler for much of the season, the Sedins were matched with the roughest, biggest, beston-ice competition opponents had to offer.
It may turn out to be the best thing that could have happened.
“I think we’re more confident in our own end now,” Henrik said. “Getting back and breaking out. And I think it comes with the coaches putting us out there more in those situations where we had to focus on that.
“In the past, our only job was to produce. If your only job is to get goals, you might cheat a little more at the other end, and that’s usually when it hurts you the other way.”
Kesler’s injury forced the Sedins to expand their game, demanding the players who have benefited over the years by offensive-zone starts toplay a 200-foot game.
“We don’t want to be one-dimensional guys,” Henrik said. “We want to be guys who take faceoffs in our own end facing top guys.
“If you look at our games this year, we played our best games against L.A., when we were matched up against (Anze Kopitar). We played a lot of minutes against (Jonathan) Toews in the Chicago game. We played against (Joe) Thornton at home.
“I think that’s the kind of game we want to play.”
In a shortened, 48-game schedule, the Sedins were among the best defensive forwards in the NHL. That not only opened eyes, it opened up the matchup possibilities for the coaching staff heading into the playoffs.
“We have been playing against other lines we’ve never seen before and it’s been fun,” Daniel said. “For us, it’s been about winning games.”
You want options, you now have them. The team isn’t dependent any more on trying to match Kesler with other team’s No. 1 lines.
“We’ve shown we can play that way,” Henrik said. “For us, people always said we create offence because a lot of times we have offensive-zone faceoffs. But I’m not a great faceoff guy. I’m below 50 per cent. Maybe we scored one or two goals off of (offensive-zone) faceoffs this year.
“I think we scored more goals off of faceoffs in our own end than in the offensive zone this year.”
Daniel said the twins were eager to show people they could play at both ends of the rink.
“That’s how you want to be looked at as a hockey player,” he said. “Being dependable. I think we have great defensive forwards on this team who are going to play PK (penalty kill) most of the time. That’s fine with us.
“But I think we are reliable in our own end.”
It could make a big difference.
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