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Stifled Canucks stars happy to be past Predators

Rich Lam/2011 Getty Images

As they wait for their next opponent, predictably offering no choice of preference, some of the Vancouver Canucks' stars are just happy that the Nashville Predators are in the rear-view mirror.

The Canucks struggled all season long against defence-oriented teams, of which label Nashville certainly qualifies, and Vancouver's six-game series win was lacking in aesthetics. Ryan Kesler may have used the Predators to boost his career and endorsement opportunities, but his high-profile teammates aren't sorry to see them eliminated.

For the Sedin twins and Roberto Luongo, the artless series against Nashville took them so far out of their comfort zones that any alternative, even teams with better rosters and prospects of beating the Canucks, are welcome. So enter the San Jose Sharks or Detroit Red Wings, who conclude their Western Conference semi-final with Game 7 Thursday at the HP Pavilion in San Jose.

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When asked about meeting either the Sharks or Red Wings, Luongo lit up like a Christmas tree: "It's a good, good thing." He said he was "a little bit" bored against Nashville, but quickly added, with a laugh, "we won, so that's all that matters."

Like many goaltenders, Luongo prefers to make some saves early in the first period, feel the puck on his stick and not have long periods of inactivity during a game. Against Nashville, a team that doesn't put a lot of pucks on net and can go long stretches without threatening the goal, Luongo had to work to maintain his focus. Perhaps that explains why he had so much trouble with shots from behind the goal line that should have been simple saves requiring concentration and not much else.

It is odd logic to say that a goaltender can be better when facing more shots, because it goes against the law of averages - the greater the number of shots, the greater the likelihood of a goal - but Luongo has forever been in that camp.

He is a classic worker bee, taking advantage of almost every practice or morning skate to get on the ice and take NHL shots from NHL players. And earlier in his career, before 70-plus starts a season was deemed too much by Canucks management, Luongo was known as a goaltender who flourished on a heavy workload.

In the 2003-04 season, when he was with the Florida Panthers, Luongo faced more shots (2,475) than in any other campaign of his career save one, and posted his best seasonal save percentage (93.1).

Then there are the Sedins. Their distaste for playing against Nashville's suffocating system was evident by their subpar production (just seven points), and by a quote from Henrik Sedin in the aftermath.

"The next series will be tough, but there will be more offence," the Canucks captain said. "We'll be facing a team that wants to play hockey, at least, so it will be a lot different."

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The Sedins' style did not mesh with Nashville's propensity for stacking the blue line and clogging the neutral zone. The twins want to carry the puck over the line, not dump and chase, and that is far more likely against the Sharks or Red Wings, where puck possession is paramount.

That was never more evident than March 10 in San Jose, when the Canucks and Sharks played perhaps the best regular-season game of the NHL season. Vancouver won 5-4 in a shootout, despite being outshot 48-28, and the number of chances and odd-man rushes made for a wildly entertaining game.

The Sedins had four points that night, and combined for 11 in four games against the Sharks this season.

"We know San Jose and Detroit are going to attack a little bit more, so it should open up a little bit," Daniel Sedin said.

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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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