Newspaper article The Canadian Press

'Stale' Core Written off by Tortorella Has Canucks Back in the Playoffs

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

'Stale' Core Written off by Tortorella Has Canucks Back in the Playoffs

Article excerpt

'Stale' core leads Canucks to the playoffs

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VANCOUVER - Prior to getting axed after one disastrous campaign with the Vancouver Canucks, John Tortorella didn't mince words when assessing the club's veteran core.

"I felt from Day 1 that it's stale," the team's soon-to-be fired head coach said on April 14, 2014, after Vancouver missed the playoffs for the first time in six years. "That's not their fault. This is a group that has been together for a long time."

But fast-forward one year and Tortorella is a distant memory, while that "stale" nucleus of older players -- the one that led Vancouver to two Presidents' Trophies and within a game of winning the 2011 Stanley Cup before stumbling badly in 2013-14 -- has the Canucks back in the post-season and buoyed at the chance for another run.

"For us personally, it was tough to miss the playoffs last year," said defenceman Kevin Bieksa. "It was just really tough to sit on the sidelines and watch. A team that was so used to being in the playoffs, and not only being there, but competing, we were hungry. We wanted to get back and do whatever it took."

What it took for Vancouver, which opens its first-round series with the Calgary Flames at home on Wednesday, were bounce-back campaigns from a number of veterans.

Daniel and Henrik Sedin returned to form after tough offensive seasons to record 76 and 73 points, respectively, Alexandre Burrows stayed relatively healthy to score 18 goals, and Jannik Hansen found new life on a line with rookies Bo Horvat and Ronalds Kenins. On defence, Alexander Edler put an NHL-worst minus-39 season behind him to lead the Canucks with a plus-13 rating, while Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis battled through injuries to contribute down the stretch.

"You have to believe in yourselves to play this game at a high level," said Bieksa. "This year we've been tested, we've overcome a lot of adversity (and) we've bounced back."

Tortorella was one of many voices calling for the Canucks to go into rebuild mode, but the team's brain trust led by president of hockey operations Trevor Linden and general manager Jim Benning saw things differently. Rookie head coach Willie Desjardins brought in fresh systems and a renewed belief in the club's leaders, while the players were determined to make amends for a lost season. …

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