The Canucks and Flames are saying the right things, as it’s earned experience versus youthful bliss in an all-Western Canadian opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Vancouver hosts Calgary on Wednesday night, with puck drop set for 7 p.m. PST at Rogers Arena.
“Both teams are gonna be ready,” said Canucks coach Willie Desjardins this week. “Calgary’s been ready for this for a while. They’ll have a lot of enthusiasm and, for us, we’ve gotta match that, as well.”
“It’s gonna be a fun building to play in,” said Henrik Sedin, after Vancouver’s Tuesday morning practice. “It always is, and (Calgary’s) gonna come hard and it’s gonna be a fun series. Especially when there are two teams that I don’t think anyone thought was going to be in the playoffs.”
The Canucks finished with 101 points to claim second in the Pacific this season, four points ahead of the Flames’ 97. Offensively, Vancouver’s top line of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, plus Radim Vrbata or Alex Burrows, will face-off with Calgary’s dynamic combination of rookie Johnny Gaudreau, sophomore stud Sean Monahan, and 76-point man Jiri Hudler.
Both teams took their division by surprise, after they both finished in the NHL’s bottom six last season.
“The playoffs, there’s lot of unsung heroes,” said Calgary coach Bob Hartley. “Lots of guys that can come out of nowhere and suddenly, you get a big goal and you draw lots of motivation and lots of confidence, and here you go.
“Obviously, they count a lot on the Sedins, we count a lot on our first line, but we’ve been a great team, a great family all year.”
At first glance, Vancouver’s a team clinging to its past prime, pounding its chest for the experience it earned with five straight playoff appearance from 2009 to 2013. But the Canucks’ core has bounced back this season after a lost 2014, with the Sedin twins both eclipsing 70 points (in a down year for league scoring) and with Alex Edler returning to fine form.
Edler had 31 points and a +13 acquired playing with Chris Tanev this season, after a 22-point, -39 effort in 2014.
Plus, the Canucks have added key players like Derek Dorsett, Shawn Matthias, Bo Horvat, and leading scorer (and MVP) Radim Vrbata over the past year and a bit, meaning Vancouver’s got more to offer than its Swedish connection up-front.
At first glance, Calgary’s all speed, smoke, and young love. But of course, the Flames have resisted the stereotype all season, and (with Vancouver) beat out two once-powerhouses in L.A. and San Jose to surge into the West’s final playoff spot. And they’ve had so many heart-warming, gut-check wins this season, the city’s Sun was able to compile ’10 defining games’ emblematic of their never-say-die ‘tude.
“They’re gonna be playing hockey, they’re gonna be working hard and they’re going to be prepared to play a good game. We’ll have to match their intensity – their speed and their work ethic – to have a chance.”
Eddie Lack has been confirmed as Vancouver’s starting goaltender for Game 1.
Lack led the Canucks to the playoffs, starting down the stretch in place of injured No. 1 Ryan Miller. (Miller will be on the bench and is still likely recovering from his injury, although Desjardins said Lack is getting the start so Miller doesn’t have to go from 0-to-100 to shake off the rust.)
Jonas Hiller will start in net for the Flames, who beat Vancouver twice this season but did so with goalies Joni Ortio and Karri Ramo.