Hockey Night In Canada Stanley Cup Playoffs 2011

Winnipeg chatter creeps into Game 3 prep

Categories: San Jose Sharks, VAN vs. SJS, Vancouver Canucks

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Manitoba-born Aaron Rome of the Vancouver Canucks says it's an exciting possibility that the NHL may return to Winnipeg. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press) Manitoba-born Aaron Rome of the Vancouver Canucks says it's an exciting possibility that the NHL may return to Winnipeg. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

By Tim Wharnsby

SAN JOSE - Players from the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks politely and answered questions about the NHL's return to the city of Winnipeg, but preparing for their game this evening was clearly the focus.

"We have a big game tonight, I don't know if you heard. You know Game 3 of the Western Conference final," joked Canucks outspoken defencemen Kevin Bieksa after he answered a few questions about Winnipeg and its passionate fan base.

The news that the Atlanta Thrashers franchise relocation to Winnipeg was closer than ever infiltrated the morning skate of the Western Conference final that has the Canucks up 2-0 with Game 3 set for the HP Pavilion on Friday (CBC, 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET).

Of course, Bieksa and many of the Canucks played in Winnipeg for the Manitoba Moose of the AHL and know the fans there well. It just happens that Bieksa is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. But any decisions on a possible move from the Bieksa camp is on the back burner these days.

Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome grew up about two hours West of Winnipeg on his family's grain farm in Nesbitt, Man. He remarked that it would be nice to one day return to his home province to play in front of family and friends as a member of the Canucks, but he's not about to celebrate just yet.

"It's definitely exciting for the guys who are from Manitoba to go back there and play," he said. "But I still think they're a little ways a way from it happening. So let's wait until the day it becomes official."

Sharks defenceman Ian White hails from Steinbach, Man., 30 minutes outside of Winnipeg. He watched several Winnipeg Jets games live as a kid before they moved to Phoenix in 1996.

"It was always fun to watch the NHL live when you're a kid," said White, who admitted that when he was a kid he was more a fan of Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins and later the Colorado Avalanche.

While White has no problem of possibly one day playing for his hometown team, there has been speculation that Winnipeg won't be a desirable location for free agents.

Sharks veteran defenceman Dan Boyle stated that he felt sorry for the current Thrashers who have put down roots in Atlanta.

"It's tough when you have to uproot your family," Boyle said. "But we all realize this is a business."

Bolduc in

The only call-up from the Moose the Canucks took with them on the trip to San Jose was Alexandre Bolduc, who played 24 games for Vancouver in the regular season. Although Canucks coach Alain Vigneault would not confirm that Bolduc will play in Game 3, it certainly looked that way from the morning skate.

"Alex has good size, a real strong skater," Vigenault said. "We've seen him this year. He's played over 20 games with our team. He has that ability to get in on the forecheck, real strong skater, so if we do make some changes, that's what he can bring."

The return of Tanner Glass also is a possibility. Glass played in the series opener, but was replaced by Jeff Tambellini on Wednesday. But it appears the Canucks fourth line will consist of Glass on the left side of Bolduc and Victor Oreskovich on the right side. The addition of Bolduc, however, is a risky move by Vigneault. This would give the Canucks some muscle in what could be the most physical game yet in the series and an answer for Ben Eager's antics for the Sharks in the previous game.

"Throughout the playoff, we've always put the 20 skaters that we felt would give us the best chance to win on that night," Vigneault said. "Throughout the season, we did the same thing.

"Sometimes you got to make some adjustments. Sometimes players are off their game a little bit or not on top, and you need to make quick adjustments. If we do make some changes tonight, we'll find out at the game."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan also remarked that he is considering not only lineup changes, but alterations to his line combinations.

Luongo's San Jose struggles

Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo has not won a game at HP Pavilion since the 2006-07 regular-season finale, in which he made 27 saves in a 4-3 victory.

"Are you telling me he's due?" Vigneault joked.

Canucks backup Cory Schneider played both games in San Jose this season.