NHL: Canucks ready for fired-up Sharks squad
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) – The Vancouver Canucks know exactly what San Jose just went through, and they expect to face an even better Sharks squad as a result.
San Jose is coming off an emotional Game 7 victory over Detroit on Thursday night after nearly blowing a 3-0 series lead. Vancouver went through the same thing in the first round against Chicago, and if the Canucks’ reaction to getting past that adversity was any indication, they can expect the Sharks to come out flying when the Western Conference finals open Sunday.
“Our first period against Nashville was our best in the series,” forward Alex Burrows said. “San Jose just had a big, emotional win and they are going to have the same kind of push we did.”
Believe it or not, goalie Roberto Luongo is looking forward to it.
While it may seem counterintuitive for a goalie to want more shots from better shooters, Luongo has always been at his best when he’s busy. That wasn’t often against a tight-checking Predators team that managed fewer than 25 shots in four of six games during the last round. Luongo and the Canucks expect to see a lot more offense from the deep, talented Sharks forwards.
San Jose averaged more than 40 shots in four regular-season meetings. The Canucks went 3-0-1, with Luongo stopping 77 of 79 in a win and shootout loss in his two starts – both at home.
“I’m sure there will be a few more shots, they have some forwards that can put the puck in the net, they are a very skilled team. They have a bit more firepower and play a different system than Predators,” Luongo said. “I’ve always said the more shots I face the better I feel.”
Luongo is feeling pretty good overall these days. He’s in the conference finals for the first time in his 11-year career after being knocked out in the second round three of the last four seasons.
Benched to start Game 6 against Chicago, Luongo bounced back to win Game 7 in overtime, pitched a shutout in Game 1 against Nashville and posted a .932 save percentage against the Predators.
“I’ve waited my whole life to be in a situation like this and I’m just going to take advantage of it and enjoy the moment,” Luongo said. “Conference final for the first time against a team that has some skill up front – it’s a fun time for me to be playing hockey. I’ve been waiting a long time.”
In more ways than one: Luongo hasn’t played since Monday and didn’t get back on the ice until Thursday, the kind of break that would have raised alarm bells in the past. But Luongo has been better at dealing with time off this season, an adjustment he credits to playing deeper in his crease under new goalie coach Roland Melanson. That shortens his movements within the blue ice – both setting up for, and recovering from, shots – and leaves him less reliant on rhythm.
“That’s the whole point of this season, the stuff we’ve been working on,” Luongo said. “Maybe in the past I wanted to be more on a hot streak.”
Luongo isn’t the only Canuck eager for a more offensive series. The top-line duo of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who have won the last two NHL scoring titles, managed just two goals – Henrik’s was into the empty net – and seven points while going minus-10 against Nashville.
“Nashville knew the way they could win was to keep us to low scoring games,” said Henrik, who hasn’t been on the ice since Game 6 Monday but insisted he s not hurt and would be back on the ice Saturday and ready for Game 1. “San Jose has guys that want to score. That’s the difference.”
It’s one the Canucks – even their goalie – welcome.
NOTES: In addition to Sedin, forwards Chris Higgins and Mikael Samuelsson still haven’t skated since Monday. Higgins, who was limping after blocking a shot in Game 5 but played Game 6, said he would be ready for the conference finals. But Samuelsson, who sustained a lower-body injury in Game 5, isn’t expected to play. C Manny Malhotra also skated with the team for a second straight day Friday, but isn’t expected back this season after a career-threatening eye injury in mid-March.