The Vancouver Canucks had just come off an embarrassing, uninspired loss to the Nashville Predators, leaving them at a decidedly mediocre 5-6 record in their past 11 games.
The 3-0 loss saw the hometown Canucks close out their six-game homestand in a daze, lacking the scoring punch that had vaulted them to the top of the NHL standings.
League scoring leader Daniel Sedin had just two points in his last five games, mirroring brother Henrik’s contribution. Gritty forward turned Rocket Richard contender Ryan Kesler had just one goal in his last 10 games, the one being an empty-netter. To compound matters, the vaunted power play that had carried the Canucks during so many games earlier in the year had dried up, going just 2-for-16 on the homestand.
The team looked ahead to its weekend in sunny California, as the Canucks took on the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, followed by the Anaheim Ducks the next night—two very good teams fighting for their playoff lives in the competitive Western Conference. Both teams had size, aggressiveness and had given the Canucks fits over the past year.
Not only would a sweep award the Canucks with their first back-to-back victories in over a month, it would prove that Vancouver was able to compete with the size and strength that both the Kings and Ducks offered.
Instead of relying on the previously-mentioned snipers in the Vancouver lineup, the player who stepped up to take control in California ended up being a quiet, unassuming Dane.
Jannik Hansen led the Canucks to two wins in two nights as he tallied a crucial first period goal in LA to tie the game, before setting up Manny Malhotra twice in Anaheim the next night, as the Canucks cruised to 3-1 and 3-0 victories, respectively.
In the first period against LA, the Canucks seemed to be heading towards another loss as Dustin Penner tallied his first as a King to take a 1-0 lead. The one Canuck who was consistently buzzing—throwing his 195-pound frame into everything that moved—was wearing No. 36.
Halfway through the period, Hansen created a turnover with a strong forecheck on Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi, before outlasting Jonathan Quick to deposit a Raffi Torres feed in the back of the net. This goal seemed to jump-start the Vancouver team, who ended up skating to a 3-1 victory.
The following night, it took Hansen just 42 seconds to make his mark on the game, feathering a pass to Manny Malhotra on a two-on-one. He added another assist on another turnover down low, with a pretty behind-the-back pass to Malhotra that looked more like something Canuck fans expect from a different Scandinavian forward.
While three points in two nights may not be outstanding stats, just looking at the numbers is unfair to Hansen’s contributions to this team. He has been a consistent performer on the third line, offering speed, grit, hustle and discipline. All year he has stayed under the radar while showing up night-in and night-out. Rarely does he get a mention in the postgame summary, but on many nights he has been the Canucks' most physical presence, which offers a glimpse of the heart that Hansen plays with.
People speak to the depth of past Cup-winning teams. The Blackhawks had John Madden, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd in the bottom six, while the Penguins had Max Talbot and Jordan Staal.
The Canucks' Top Six is as good as any in the league; they have incredible depth on the blue line and one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL.
Forward depth is so important in the grind that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the Canucks can continue to get what they have out of Jannik Hansen and the rest of the third line, there is a very realistic chance that the Stanley Cup could be taking a tour through Herlev, Denmark this summer.