Canucks trying to avoid post-trip letdown

March, 12, 2010

The Vancouver Canucks wouldn't say it beforehand, but I believe they would have been pleased with earning 14 out of 28 points from their epic 14-game road trip.

So to go 8-5-1 and collect 17 points on the NHL's longest-ever road trip? Gravy, baby.

Now, the Canucks have 10 of their last 15 games at home and return to beautiful Vancouver after the 42-day trek still sitting in first place in the Northwest Division. Nicely done.

"Before leaving on that trip, and obviously there was a lot of attention to it, but I kept telling everyone that we were a good road team," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault told on Friday. "I knew that we could play well on that trip."

Interestingly, the Canucks were actually more concerned about the post-Olympic part of the trip because they believed the first part of the trek was better spaced out with off days. But they went 4-4-0 in the eight-game stretch before the break, and 4-1-1 after the Olympics. Go figure.

"What was good about that trip was some of the games where maybe our goaltending wasn't as good as can be, our offense was there," said Vigneault, who yanked star goalie Roberto Luongo three times during the trip. "And the other games where our offense might have been a little bit off, our goaltending was there. We had different guys stepping up in every game, like Jannik Hansen scoring those two game-winning goals.

"It was challenging for sure, physically and mentally, that's a lot of games and a lot of traveling, and at the end of the day, I thought our guys handled it pretty well."

Now it's back to work at Canada Hockey Place, er, GM Place, with five games in eight nights, including back-to-back contests Saturday and Sunday versus Ottawa and Calgary, respectively. Every team always tries to guard against a letdown after a long road trip, with mixed results. Vigneault believes his team will be OK in that regard.

"I'm not overly concerned, and for a couple of reasons," said the Canucks coach. "We're fighting for the playoffs and for first place in our division. We've got some really tough opponents coming in. And I look at tomorrow night's game [the late game on "Hockey Night in Canada"] and for us to have been gone so long ... they're going to celebrate the Olympians on our team, the guys that won the medals, my feeling is that the place is going to go nuts a little bit.

"So I'm hoping that's going to kick start our team a little bit. The emotion in our building should get our focus to where it needs to be."

Then on Sunday, the Canucks face the rival Flames, so that should take care of itself in terms of his players' focus.

"We don't need to get up for those games," said Vigneault. "Those games are always tough and emotional and physical. It's not going to be an easy weekend, but I think we'll be in the right frame of mind."

The Canucks survived their biggest test of the season; now we'll see if they have a Cup run in them.

"I think our team is growing, our leadership is growing from Roberto to the [Sedin] twins ... these guys we've had for four years, they're getting better as hockey players and they're getting better as people," said Vigneault.

"I like the way we've responded to these challenges."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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