Canucks in Familiar Position

The Vancouver Canucks know firsthand just how precarious their lead over the Dallas Stars might be.

In NHL playoff history, 210 teams have gone up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series. Only 20 of those teams have gone on to lose the series. Vancouver has been involved in four of those series, including twice in 2003, when they overcame flu-ridden St. Louis in the first round, then blew the big lead against Minnesota.

Oddsmakers have made Vancouver -155 money line (NHL Odds) favorites for todays game, the over/under has been set at 4.5 total goals (View NHL Sports Books). Our public betting information shows that 67% of bets for this game have been placed on Vancouver -155 (View NHL Bet Percentages).

The Canucks know not to do any premature planning for the second round as their Western Conference quarterfinal series with the Stars shifts back to Vancouver for Game 5 Thursday night.

``I've been on every side,'' said Trevor Linden, who has been part of all four comebacks, including one against Calgary in the first round of 1994 that sparked a run to the Stanley Cup finals.

``We talked about it a little before we went out and skated (Wednesday). You just want to make sure guys understand there s a lot of hockey left and we have to be at our best to close it out,'' Linden said.

That's especially true considering the slim margin of victory against Dallas. Game 1 featured four overtimes, and the last two games, like all four in the regular season, were decided by a 2-1 score.

``It's a very unique place when you're down 3-1 and have your backs against the wall and somehow it brings the most out of players,'' said Vancouver defenseman Willie Mitchell, who was on the Minnesota team that came back from 3-1 against both Colorado and the Canucks in the 2003 playoffs.

``They're backed into a corner and we're going to see their best. Desperation is huge. Lose and you go home, so you find a way to elevate your game to stay alive. We have a team in that situation and how you beat that is match their work ethic.''

Of course, the Canucks team that blew a lead against Mitchell's Wild was built to score, and struggled to keep opponents from doing the same. This year's version, much like its Dallas counterpart, prides itself on defense.

And unlike 2003, this team doesn't plan to taunt opposing fans, as then-Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi did by telling people in Minnesota not to buy tickets because there wouldn't be a Game 6.

``There was lots of trash talk some talk about golf clubs,'' Mitchell said with a wry smile. ``We're not going to make that mistake. It's a good team over there, the games have all been tight, and it can easily switch the other way if we re not committed and don't focus on the task at hand.''

Bertuzzi is gone, traded last summer for goalie Roberto Luongo. In his first career playoff series, Luongo has a 1.48 goals-against average and NHL-best .950 save percentage. He hasn't lost three straight since mid-November, when the Canucks were still struggling with their new identity.

``So far I think he has been (in our heads),'' Stars captain Brenden Morrow said. ``But we also scored four against him in the first game so he's beatable.''

It's the fourth straight playoff series Dallas has trailed 3-1. Only once, against Anaheim in the 2003 semifinals, did they win Game 5. Mike Ribeiro has the Stars only comeback experience, battling back with Montreal from a 3-1 deficit to Boston in 2004.

``We played a simplified game and took it one period at a time,'' Ribeiro said. ``Once you win Game 5, the pressure goes to them to close the series. You're just playing and they've got the pressure to finish it out. The thing is, you don't want to think about winning three games, you just worry about the next one.''

The Stars have enjoyed success in Vancouver, with a shutout win in Game 2 and a third-period comeback from a two-goal deficit before losing in the fourth overtime in Game 1. They'll have to do it this time without forward Jussi Jokinen, who didn't travel to Vancouver because of an undisclosed upper body injury in Game 4. But coach Dave Tippett said center Eric Lindros, out since March 9 with a groin injury, could return.

``We played well in the first two games up there so you know it's not impossible,'' said Marty Turco, who has nearly matched Luongo with a .943 save percentage and 1.67 goals-against, but still faces a third straight early exit.

``It's not the most daunting task in the world,'' he said. ``It's on the hard side, but it's very doable for this group against this team. We can play better, and we have to. It's now or never.''

by: Gary Roberts - - Email Us

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