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Canucks unfazed by recent slide, high expectations

Cup final loss only makes us stronger: Vigneault

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VANCOUVER -- Four losses in the last five games is but a minor irritant on the left coast this time of year.

When you're one point from first overall in the NHL, April, May and June are really all that matter.

The Vancouver Canucks are going to be in the Stanley Cup playoffs again. They might even win a second straight Presidents Trophy.

But when the puck goes down for the first round in April, losing last spring's final in the seventh game at home will become a big story again.

"You have extra motivation now, being that close to attaining your goal and see the other team celebrating," said Nesbitt's Aaron Rome.

Winning last year's Presidents Trophy with 117 points, a ridiculous 10 more than any elite rival, amassed major expectations.

It only made the June fall to the Bruins hurt more.

"We believe it's going to help, that once you've gone through that experience and you know what it takes, we believe it's going to help," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, once the coach of the Manitoba Moose, said Wednesday. "Our core guys who have been with me six or seven years, going back to Winnipeg, we all know we're going to be judged by what we did in the playoffs.

"Every year we've been here, I think we've gotten better."

This year, the Canucks aren't likely to top their 2010-11 total but they may be more prepared.

"I think everybody looks forward to these challenges," Vigneault said. "We weren't frightened about it last year and I think this group is even more motivated."

Debate it all you want, but the confidence the Canucks have displayed to rise again to near the top of the NHL ladder is documented.

The usual average start -- the team was just .500 after a Nov. 16 loss to Chicago, and was under .500 at several points earlier -- turned into a steady rise.

Nine wins in the next 10 games will do that. A record of 31-7-7 from Nov. 16 to just before this recent hiccup will guarantee the playoffs,. That's something tonight's opponents, the Winnipeg Jets, haven't matched and can just dream of.

"We don't want to start that way but sometimes you have to be patient and wait for guys to get back up to speed, where they should be," said Canucks goalie Cory Schneider, who will start against the Jets tonight.

"We weren't playing to the expectations of everybody else or ourselves," added Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa. "Once November hit, we just kind of found our groove. It just seems to take us a month sometimes to get going."

Neither cattle prods nor tempers get things moving.

"This isn't a yelling dressing room," Bieksa said. "I can't tell you the answer why. All I know is we've been pretty consistent for the last four or five months. We're a good team and we should be playing the right way and when we do, with the personnel we have, we should be successful most of the time."

Vigneault said last June's defeat was not just another setback.

"I know it was tough for everybody, players, coaches, management, fans, everybody, "Typically, we've always had a challenging start in October for different reasons, if you look at the record since I've been here.

"All of a sudden November comes and it seems to coincide with Louie (Roberto Luongo) starting to play better.

"Then we just take off."

At a high altitude, the Canucks' recent turbulence includes back-to-back losses to Buffalo Saturday and Dallas on Tuesday.

"We're like any other team. We have players that struggle now and then," Vigneault said. "We need contributions from more players.

"I think all of our players, we're five per cent down. That's the difference sometimes between making the right play or not making the right play, or winning or losing the game."

JETCETERA: For tonight's game, the Canucks have 10 players on their roster who have played games for the Manitoba Moose... In an attempt to explain to reporters here that this season's support for the Jets is not something unexpected, Schneider said this: "With the Moose, we had fantastic support as the American Hockey League team. You could see that the Jets sort of still lived on there. My friends and people I know in Winnipeg have said about that, that whatever you think it is, multiply it by about 10. That's how crazy it is. It's great to hear."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2012 C2

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