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The question was posed to both head coaches before Game 4.

It concerned the importance of finishing off NHL playoff series quickly, and how teams must conserve energy along the road to the Stanley Cup.

Nashville Predators bench boss Barry Trotz happily entertained the topic Thursday, saying his friends Mike Babcock and Ken Hitchcock have preached that over the years, and it usually means the winning team has more time to prepare for their next opponent and more time to heal injuries.

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His Vancouver Canucks counterpart, Alain Vigneault, wasn't biting. He said the Canucks were simply concerned with the next game and didn't look down the road.

That mantra, usually uttered with the insidious one-game-at-a-time cliché, has served the Canucks well this postseason, and has them on the verge of eliminating the Predators. Vancouver leads the best-of-seven Western Conference semi-final series 3-1 heading into Game 5 at Rogers Arena on Saturday.

"That's what we have to do," centre Ryan Kesler said. "That's our mindset going into every game. We got to worry about the game at hand. We can't look at the big picture because it gets overwhelming at times. If we just have that mindset of focusing on every game, we'll be fine."

The Canucks have been using this philosophy throughout the 2010-11 season, and began stressing it to all who would listen when the playoffs started last month. But they didn't start living it until Game 6 of their first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Canucks were up 3-0, but played two atrocious games and let the Blackhawks off the mat. Players acknowledged that they were looking ahead, and had counted the 'Hawks out.

The Canucks lost Game 6 in overtime, but rediscovered their urgency and their game, and went on to win the series.

On Saturday, their single-focus receives another test. It represents Vancouver's first chance to finish off the Predators, and it would also mean some rest before the conference final.

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The Canucks are in this spot because of a 4-2 victory in Game 4, which defenceman Christian Ehrhoff called a "must win" after it was over. It may have put the Canucks on the brink of advancing, but as captain Henrik Sedin noted, Vancouver is treating every contest like "Game 7" in order to maintain focus.

Though their recent history is spotty, the Canucks showed a killer instinct last year, when they bounced the Los Angeles Kings in six games, winning in their first chance to eliminate an opponent, and doing so on the road. Two years ago, the Canucks swept the St. Louis Blues, taking the fourth game in overtime on the road.

"We should have learned from that [Chicago]series and have the right mindset," Ehrhoff said. "I don't think we can be loose. That would be the wrong attitude."

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About the Author
B.C. sports correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Matthew spearheads the Globe's sports coverage in B.C., and spends most of his time with the NHL Canucks and CFL Lions. He has worked for four dailies and TSN since graduating from Carleton University's School of Journalism a decade ago, and has covered the Olympic Games, Super Bowls, Grey Cups, the Stanley Cup playoffs and the NBA Finals. More

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