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Canucks: How Teddy Blueger learned thrill of Stanley Cup chase


‘I don’t know if it’s calming, but you know what to expect. Emotions will be high, but when you’ve seen it and been around it, that definitely helps.’ — Blueger on playoff experience with Vegas

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Teddy Blueger knows the playoff drill.

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Listen, learn, execute and don’t get spooked by the spotlight.

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After all, it’s a career thrill. Enjoy it.

“Honestly, it’s a privilege to play in these games. You don’t get it every year,” said the gritty, Vancouver Canucks centre, who logged six post-season games with the champion Vegas Golden Knights last season.

“I don’t know if it’s calming, but you know what to expect. Emotions will be high, but when you’ve seen it and been around it, that definitely helps.”

Blueger didn’t play in a Stanley Cup Final game in 2023. It’s one of the criteria to get your name on the legendary trophy, but his 45 regular-season games with the Pittsburgh Penguins before being dealt at the trade deadline exceeded the minimum 41 games.

The Golden Knights also petitioned the NHL that anybody with the club when it won it all should have their name inscribed.

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Blueger happily took the Cup home to his native Riga, Latvia and ate his grandmother’s borscht out of the gleaming silver trophy.

It’s why Blueger was in a good place Sunday. He knows what to expect in the series opener against the Nashville Predators.

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Flames forward Martin Pospisil battles Canucks centre Teddy Blueger on Nov. 16 in Calgary. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

“Fun time,” said Blueger. “Everybody has been looking forward to it for a while.”

The Canucks often have seven coaches on the practice ice. That’s a leg up when Hall of Famers Henrik and Daniel Sedin are providing skill sessions.

“For sure,” stressed Blueger. “If it’s an individual skill, they’re all very approachable and easy to talk to. We get a wealth of information and they have a wealth of playoff experience.

“They were in our shoes and know all the emotion that goes into it and what we’re feeling.”

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Teams that succeed often win the special-teams battle. And while a power play with so much potential often searches for the pretty goal instead of grinding one out down low, the penalty kill has been one of the good-news stories.

The Canucks killed 13-consecutive power plays in four games heading into the post-season and finished at 79.1 per cent efficient to place 17th. In November of 2021, the penalty kill was an abysmal 63.8 per cent. It kept frustrated penalty-kill specialist Jason Dickinson up at night.

Acquiring those with a pedigree to deny power-play goals was crucial. In Elias Lindholm, Pius Suter, Sam Lafferty, Filip Hronek, Carson Soucy, Ian Cole and especially Blueger, the Canucks don’t have to tax J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson or Quinn Hughes with added minutes.

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Blueger and Lindholm are deployed as the top pair and have developed quick chemistry. It’s not surprising. Blueger is aggressive and disrupts power play flow and Lindholm is strong in the faceoff circle and reads the game exceptionally well.

Whether assistant coach Mike Yeo calls for the traditional diamond defending alignment, an umbrella or hybrid formation, they’re working.

“We’ve got some great goaltending and for the most part our structure has been dialed in,” said Blueger. “Getting consistent time with Lindy (Lindholm) has helped in just reading off each other. We’ve executed well with faceoff plays and clears and assignments.

“If you start with a clear that’s a big advantage and Lindy being so good on the (faceoff) does helps. And his intelligence makes it easier for me.”

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The hard part will be denying the Predators’ dynamic top line and first power play unit of Ryan O’Reilly between Filip Forsberg and Gustav Nyquist. 

Roman Josi, who could be a Norris Trophy finalist, quarterbacks the league’s 16th-ranked unit (21.6 per cent) and had 24 power play assists.

O’Reilly went 53.9 in faceoff percentage this season and added 14 power-play goals.

“It’s a huge challenge,” admitted Blueger. “An extremely highly-skilled line with a lot of playoff experience. Lots of skill and intelligence and just very crafty.”

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Vancouver Canucks centre Teddy Blueger, left, celebrates a goal against the Nashville Predators during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. The Canucks won 5-2. Photo by AP Photo/George Walker IV) /PNG

Joshua a big hit for playoffs 

Dakota Joshua led the Canucks in hits this season with 244 and finished ninth overall, despite missing 18 games with a hand injury and being a healthy scratch Nov. 2.

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The big Canucks winger, who also set career highs for goals (18), assists (14) and points (32), will have to take the temperature of playoff waters.

Testosterone levels will soar and if the referees allow players some leeway with delivery of crushing checks, then Joshua will be in his element. Especially if his line centred by Lindholm, and winger Conor Garland, is deployed in a shutdown role to create mayhem and be good in transition.

“The emotions will be pretty high and hopefully the first few shifts under you will hopefully settle things down,” predicted Joshua, who logged one career playoff game with the St. Louis Blues in 2021-22. 

“But that comes with the environment. We play the game to get to these moments. You have to be careful, but everyone expects a physical game and that line will be discovered throughout the first game.

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“It’s not going over it, but making sure you’re still a presence.”

canucks vs jets
Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Lindholm (23), Noah Juulsen (47), Dakota Joshua (81) and Conor Garland (8) celebrate Garland’s goal against the Winnipeg Jets during first period NHL action in Winnipeg on Thursday, April 18, 2024. Photo by JOHN WOODS /THE CANADIAN PRESS

bkuzma@postmedia.com

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