The Vancouver Canucks figure the learning experience they got from last year's run to the Stanley Cup Final which ended in a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins will serve them well this spring as they attempt the rare feat of making consecutive Final appearances.
The most crucial lesson they hope they've figured out, however, is the importance of closing out their first round series as quickly as possible. Last year in their opening round series against the Blackhawks, the Canucks jumped out to an ideal start winning their first three games but then proceeded to flirt with disaster allowing the Blackhawks to claw all the way back to force a Game 7.
In the process, Vancouver lost defensemen Sami Salo for a handful of games and nearly saw back-up goaltender Cory Schneider go down with injury as well. The Canucks managed to overcome the odds last year to still advance all the way to the Final, but there's no doubt the tough seven-game opening round series took its toll, and doing whatever it takes to avoid potential injuries this time around will be a top priority for Vancouver
By the time the Canucks got to the Cup Final last year they were a battered and bruised bunch with the likes of top shutdown defenseman Dan Hamhuis and top-six forwards Mason Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson out of commission and a handful of others dealing with undisclosed ailments.
Injury prevention is just one of the reasons the Canucks, who will likely be without leading goal-scorer Daniel Sedin when they open their series against the Kings on Wednesday with the winger still recovering from a concussion sustained back on March 21, will want to find a way to get past the Kings as quickly as possible.
The Kings, much like the Blackhawks last year, are not your prototypical eighth seed that figures to just go quietly into the night. Los Angeles actually came into the season expecting to be one of the top contenders in the West only to stumble out of the gate and cost Coach Terry Murray his job.
Since Darryl Sutter took over as bench boss, the Kings are 25-13-10 and have established themselves as being one of the stingiest defensive teams in the league riding the red hot goaltending of Vezina Trophy candidate Jonathan Quick who posted personal career-bests in goals-against-average (1.95) and save percentage (.929) during the regular season and also led the league in shutouts with 10.
The Canucks don't need to be reminded how dangerous teams like that can be if they aren't quickly put away after their experiences last year with both the Blackhawks, which nearly led to a first-round exit, and the Bruins, which ultimately cost them a Stanley Cup after they squandered a 2-0 series lead and ended up losing Game 7.
Vancouver also does not have much recent experience with finding success when falling behind in a series.
Since Alain Vigneault took over as head coach of the Canucks at the start of the 2006-07 season they have won just one of four series in which they've been behind at any point. That series, coincidentally, was their first-round series against the Kings back in 2010 where they trailed two-games-to-one but managed to storm back and win the final three games to take the series in six games. They subsequently went on to lose in the following round to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
The Canucks never trailed during a series at any point in their run to the Stanley Cup Final last year.
They'll want to keep that trend alive especially in this opening round if they have intention of making another extended run this year.