VANCOUVER — Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has a simple set of instructions for his new second line as Vancouver again faces playoff elimination on Sunday.
“Shut up and play,” Vigneault said.
Center – VAN
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 1
SOG: 9 | +/-: 0
Actually, Vigneault’s directive was only aimed at one member of a new-look second line now loaded with talkative agitators: Maxim Lapierre. The coach insisted incumbent center Ryan Kesler and former first liner Alexandre Burrows are reformed trash talkers, focusing their efforts instead on playing hard between the whistles rather than yapping after it. But heading into Game 5 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal against Los Angeles, even Kesler admits to getting too caught up in the post-whistle theatrics during a Game 1 loss.
“You’re amped up, you’ve waited so long to get back in the playoffs and I think the emotions got the best of everybody that game,” Kesler said after practice on Saturday afternoon. “And ever since then, I thought we’ve been pretty good, playing whistle to whistle and not letting them get under our skin.”
The idea of Kesler talking about others getting under his skin seems laughable, especially while flanked by Lapierre — a noted agitator in his usual fourth-line center role — and Burrows, who came up a gritty, grinding checker before evolving into a top-line scorer with Daniel and Henrik Sedin over the last four years.
Burrows was re-united with Kesler, his usual penalty killing partner and a former checking unit linemate, after David Booth was moved up to the top line to start Game 4. Lapierre joined them in place of Mason Raymond, whose poor check on Anze Kopitar led to the Kings’ only goal in Game 4 and a demotion to the fourth line for Game 5.
“It would be a tough line to play against,” Vigneault said. “(It) should bring a lot of energy, guys with a decent skill set, and a lot of speed. Those are three guys that want to win bad and will do whatever it takes.”
A reputation for sometimes doing too much led to plenty of playful nickname suggestions for the usually talkative new unit.
The best came from Vancouver Sun columnist Cam Cole’s, who suggested The Three Mouthketeers, which even produced a chuckle from the usually stern-faced Kesler.
“Our job is to play in your face between the whistles, so come up with something about that,” Kesler responded. “After Game 1, I thought we’ve been pretty good.”
Vigneault was adamant Burrows and Kesler, who has also come under fire from the Kings for embellishing in this series, have behaved themselves all season, and that their reputations are “externally driven” and “not on the ice.”
“They toned it down, played whistle to whistle and were really disciplined,” he said. “Max on the other hand … he’s been told to shut up and play.”
Lapierre has actually done the playing part quite well, both in the playoffs for the Canucks last season and in Montreal the year before, as well as on all four lines late this season, including five points in four games on the top unit.
“It’s been different, but I don’t want to change my style,” Lapierre said. “I want to be physical and do what I do best and try to help the guys I am playing with. Our role is not to go out and talk, our role is to go and play hockey, be physical.”
The brand of hockey just might rub some opponents the wrong way.
“We’re going to be in your face between the whistles all night,” Kesler said, adding they have to make life particularly tough on former U.S. Olympic teammate, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. “We want to make it hard on him all night. We have the mindset it has to be greasy, that’s the way you win hockey games this time of year. You win it by five feet around the net.”
Not with five words after the whistle.
“No need for earplugs,” Vigneault said.
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