Iain MacIntyre: Canucks counting on Radim to rise

 

In it to win it: Vrbata understands timing and luck, and the sniper says his team needs both against Hartley’s Flames

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks Radim Vrbata celebrates his 3rd period goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in Rogers Arena in Vancouver on March 17, 2015.
 
 

Vancouver Canucks Radim Vrbata celebrates his 3rd period goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in Rogers Arena in Vancouver on March 17, 2015.

Photograph by: Mark van Manen, PNG

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As he looks back now after all these years, there were a couple of things Radim Vrbata didn’t appreciate when he broke into the National Hockey League as a 20-year-old rookie with the Colorado Avalanche.

The Stanley Cup wasn’t nearly as available for the taking each spring as the star-laden 2001-02 Avalanche made it seem. And his first NHL coach, blunt and demanding Bob Hartley, actually knew what he was talking about.

It took a while for Vrbata to realize these truths.

Soon to be 34, the Vancouver Canucks’ winger is still trying to make it to his first Stanley Cup Final. And to have any hope of doing so, the Czech probably has to score against Hartley’s Calgary Flames in the teams’ first-round series.

“When you’re young, you don’t understand, maybe, fully the things he’s trying to do,” Vrbata said Friday morning when asked about Hartley. “As you get older, you kind of get it and you appreciate it more. I’m sure there was some moments where I didn’t get where he was coming from. But looking back now, I know he was trying to get the best out of me and out of my game. I learned lots of things from him. You should get it from every coach that coaches you; you kind of take the best that they’re trying to teach you.”

On his sixth NHL team and in his 13th season, Vrbata has had a lot of coaches and learned a lot. His 63 points in his first year with the Canucks were a career-high, his 31 goals second only to the 35 he scored three years ago with the Phoenix Coyotes.

But space is tighter and the physical toll to score higher in the playoffs.

In his career, which began with Joe Sakic and Rob Blake and Patrick Roy the winter after Hartley’s Avalanche won the 2001 Stanley Cup, Vrbata has played only 38 playoff games.

Heading into Game 2 against the Flames on Friday, he had scored only six times and not at all in his last nine playoff games, eight of them at the end of the Coyotes’ amazing run to the Western Conference Final in 2012.

Vrbata played with an injured shoulder throughout that playoff after being crunched by Chicago Blackhawk Andrew Shaw on the first shift of the first game of the opening round.

It is the only time since his rookie season that Vrbata has been past the playoffs’ first round.

He arrived late for the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup. Vrbata missed the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2006 championship when he was traded by them to the Blackhawks earlier in the season.

Traded again to Phoenix in 2007, Vrbata missed the Blackhawks’ ascension toward the 2010 Stanley Cup.

His timing of teams has not been lucky. Until now, he feels.

After signing a two-year, $10-million US contract to join Vancouver as a free agent, Vrbata and the Canucks have been an outstanding fit. But against a Calgary team that collapses around its net and blocks shots as if coached by John Tortorella, Vrbata must find a way to be as effective in the playoffs as he was in the regular season.

“Of course it’s harder,” he said. “Everybody kind of takes their game to a different level. The thing is, you have an 82-game season where you do certain things and if it doesn’t work one game, you have 20 more. Here in the playoffs, you don’t know how many you have. You don’t know. That time pressure, the pressure in this situation, gets bigger.

“You need to find a way. On the other hand, it’s not about individuals now. If Derek Dorsett scores and we’re going to win, that’s all that matters.”

But if Dorsett, the wrecking-ball fourth liner, has to score for the Canucks to win, they’re probably not getting past the Flames.

“You don’t know if you’ll get this opportunity again, and the older you get the less chances you get,” Vrbata said. “I was a 20-year-old rookie in Colorado and that team was like an all-star team. We made it to playoffs and we made it to conference finals, and I thought it would be like that every year. And then I didn’t make the playoffs for (the next six seasons).

“It’s tough to win. There are some lucky (players) who were on winning teams and they won multiple times. And then you have some great players who were not so lucky and even though they were maybe Hall-of-Famers, they didn’t win it. I think it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time and you need some luck to go with it. Everybody wants to win it, but it’s not an easy thing to do.”

He feels he has nothing to prove personally.

“I don’t know if you have anything to prove, but you want to win and you want to help your team to win,” Vrbata said. “I look at it like me trying the best way possible to help the team win. And if I score goals that help us to win, great. But if I score goals and we don’t win, it’s all for nothing.”

imacintyre@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/imacvansun

 
 
 
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Vancouver Canucks Radim Vrbata celebrates his 3rd period goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in Rogers Arena in Vancouver on March 17, 2015.
 

Vancouver Canucks Radim Vrbata celebrates his 3rd period goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in Rogers Arena in Vancouver on March 17, 2015.

Photograph by: Mark van Manen, PNG

 
Vancouver Canucks Radim Vrbata celebrates his 3rd period goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in Rogers Arena in Vancouver on March 17, 2015.
Vancouver Canucks Radim Vrbata, left takes a shot on Calgary Flames Sean Monahan, centre and goalie Jonas Hiller, right during the third period of Game 1 of the Western Conference’s Pacific Division 2015 Stanley Cup playoff match up at Rogers Arena  in Vancouver, B.C. Wednesday April 15, 2015.
Vancouver Canucks Radim Vrbata, left, gets a shot on Calgary Flames goalie Jonas Hiller, right.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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