Does playoff experience matter? The Canucks hope so

 

 
 
 
 
Head coach Willie Desjardins gives instructions during Vancouver Canucks practice at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Arena at UBC on April 14, 2015.
 

Head coach Willie Desjardins gives instructions during Vancouver Canucks practice at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Arena at UBC on April 14, 2015.

Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, PNG

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VANCOUVER - To many observers, this series between the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames is a pick ’em that is simply too close to call.

After all, the teams were separated by just four points in the Western Conference standings. They played one another four times and each team won twice. How can one club have a decided advantage?

Well, in one area -- playoff experience -- the Canucks certainly do have an edge over the younger Flames.

If the Canucks dress the expected roster in Game 1 Wednesday night at Rogers Arena, their NHL playoff experience will total some 742 games. The Flames are expected to counter with a lineup that totals 211 post-season games.

The Canucks hope all that experience can be a difference-maker in the series.

“I think you can draw from some of the previous experiences,” defenceman Kevin Bieksa said Tuesday after the Canucks practised at UBC. “In the playoffs there are just so many ups and downs game to game and you have to be able to manage those the right way.

“There’s momentum shifts all the time. You could be down a couple of goals and you could be up and a goal goes in the other way or a penalty and you have to keep your composure. I like to think we have been through almost every scenario possible the last eight or nine years in the playoffs. But hopefully we’ll be able to handle situations well.”

Of course, experience is one of those words that can be interpreted in different ways. To some it can mean old and past your prime. Or in the case of former Vancouver coach John Tortorella: stale.

You’ll remember that was one of Tortorella’s parting shots at the team’s core before he was fired by new team president Trevor Linden just about a year ago.

“I don’t think we place a whole lot of importance into what other people say,” Bieksa said. “You have to believe in yourselves to play this game at a high level and I think we all believe in each other. You talk about the core guys, the guys that have been around for a long time, we went home in the summer and we spoke a lot and had a lot of meetings and we still believe in ourselves. . .this year we have been tested, we have overcome a lot of adversity and we have bounced back. I think all the big games that we have put a lot of importance on, we have won most of them this year. I’m not surprised, but happy we are where we are.”

Vancouver’s experience edge is especially pronounced when it comes to the teams’ top lines. The Canucks No. 1 unit of Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows has played a combined 262 playoff games. The Flames’ top line of Jiri Hudler, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau have combined for 66 -- all by Hudler.

The Canucks are expected to dress three players with no playoff experience -- Bo Horvat, Ronalds Kenins and goalie Eddie Lack. The Flames could have as many as nine playoff rookies.

“I look at this series and both teams have advantages,” said Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin. “They are young, they are excited. We are excited as well but they are the younger team and they have got nothing to lose.”

But Sedin thinks the Canucks playoff experiences, the good and the bad, can help.

“There is going to be ups and downs, there is going to be more media around, there is going to be scrutiny, there is going to be pressure on some guys to score. It’s a lot of those small things where if you don’t handle it well it might be a problem.

“A lot of us have been through pretty much everything you can go through in the playoffs, so I would like to think we are better prepared. But they got some older guys, too, if you look at (Dennis) Wideman, (Kris) Russell and Hudler. They have been around.”

Game 1 on Wednesday night will be playoff game No. 68 for Burrows, who is one of eight Vancouver players with 50 or more playoff games on their resume.

He remembers some of the things that surprised him as a playoff rookie way back in 2006.

“Just the intensity, the emotions,” Burrows said. “There is such a fine line between a win and a loss. Every time you are out on the ice you have a chance to make a difference in the game or in the series.”

Bieksa doesn’t expect there will be much in the way of lecturing done to some of the team’s young players. Instead, he said it’s important for the team’s veteran core to lead by example in the playoffs.

“The compete level and intensity is raised so much in the playoffs and we have to kind of lead the way there, show everybody this is how we play in the playoffs,” he said.

“It’s always better the second time around,” added fellow defenceman Luca Sbisa. “You know what to expect, you know what is going to happen. So for guys that have been there before, it has got to be an advantage.”

bziemer@vancouversun.com; twitter.com/bradziemer

 
 
 
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Head coach Willie Desjardins gives instructions during Vancouver Canucks practice at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Arena at UBC on April 14, 2015.
 

Head coach Willie Desjardins gives instructions during Vancouver Canucks practice at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Arena at UBC on April 14, 2015.

Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, PNG

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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