Canucks’ ‘Juice’ expects to be set loose for final playoff tune-up
‘If the coach wants me to play, I’ll play,’ says Kevin Bieksa
VANCOUVER — The Canucks are in Edmonton for a final dress rehearsal Saturday night against the Oilers (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1040).
But will everyone dress in this last-chance game before the playoffs? Believe it or not, head coach Alain Vigneault said he was still mulling his lineup options before the team flew out. He took all 25 healthy players with him – only Cory Schneider and Chris Tanev stayed back – and will have to scratch five.
This much we know: Roberto Luongo starts in goal and Henrik Sedin will play. So will Ryan Kesler. In addition, defenceman Kevin Bieksa is expected to suit up after missing five games with his mysterious ‘body’ injury. It appears his body is all healed up.
Bieksa took regular reps at practice Friday alongside Alex Edler and was on the second-unit power play.
“It felt good again today and I feel like I’m close,” Bieksa said. “If the coach wants me to play, I’ll play. If he feels like I need another day of rest, I’ll watch – like you.
“I’m just a player and I do what I’m told,” the defenceman who goes by the nickname ‘Juice’ added. “It’s always good to get one more game in and feel the puck and get sharp and all that so whatever they decide, I’m good with.”
The coach does want him to play. “Even though I didn’t talk to Kevin after today’s practice, he looked good and, if I was a betting man, I would say he would probably be coming into the lineup,” Vigneault said. “I think health-wise, he’s fine. He’s had some good practices so his best thing is probably to play.”
Vigneault also declared he has absolutely no intention of resting captain Henrik Sedin, who is about to complete his eighth straight season without missing a game. Henrik’s iron man streak currently stands at 628, seventh longest in league history and only two behind No. 6 Andy Hebenton.
“There is not a chance Hank is not going to play,” Vigneault said. “The one thing that’s sure is that he’s playing. I don’t know how many minutes he’s going to play but I know he’s going to dress.”
Vigneault had five lines at practice Friday and four defensive pairings. In addition to Edler-Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison remained intact while rookie Frank Corrado skated with Andrew Alberts and Keith Ballard, back on the blue-line after Thursday’s misadventure up front, was paired with Derek Joslin. Ninth defenceman Cam Barker skated as a forward on a fifth line with Doghouse resident Dale Weise and Steve Pinizzotto.
Ryan Kesler was back on the right side with Chris Higgins and Derek Roy despite playing the third period Thursday at centre. Asked if he sensed he would start the playoffs on the wing, Kesler poked a little fun at the situation (unless he was sending a message to the coach). “Obviously I’m a utility player,” he noted. “I can play anywhere, probably even defence if they threw me back there. I enjoy it. I have a couple of pretty good linemates and I’m having fun with it.”
He did concede that getting the puck out of the defensive zone from a stationary spot along the boards is a little more difficult than lugging it through the middle. “I definitely have a lot more respect for the wingers now that you go through it,” Kesler said. “It’s tough. It’s getting used to little stuff like that and I have a short period of time to get used to it.”
On the injury front, Schneider did not practise Friday. Vigneault claimed he didn’t know whether the Canucks’ MVP, sidelined by a so-called ‘body’ injury, would be back at practice after the team returned from Edmonton. “Couldn’t answer that,” he replied cryptically.
Tanev (ankle) skated Thursday but didn’t Friday, leaving his participation in Game 1 of the playoffs in the doubtful category.
Meanwhile, Vigneault insisted he hasn’t ruled out the Ballard-as-a-forward experiment even though it was a flop — like, totally — during Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. In two periods, the trio of Ballard, Andrew Ebbett and Zack Kassian combined for zero shots and zero hits. A clean sheet may be nice for a goalie but not three forwards.
“Keith on left wing wasn’t as efficient Thursday as I had seen it in the past,” understated the coach. “But it’s a possibility. Keith had played there before and had done a really good job. That whole line had some issues on Thursday so I wouldn’t hold that just on him.”
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