Canucks' Bieksa a Conn Smythe contender heading into final

TSN.ca Staff
5/28/2011 12:31:33 PM
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Depending on how you look at it, Kevin Bieksa's game-winner in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals was either the greatest or the strangest goal he's ever scored.

"It's a pretty unique goal," the Canucks defender told TSN Radio on Friday. "You don't see that happen too often, but [it was] opportunistic and definitely one I wouldn't trade for anything."

It was a sudden end to a marathon game, and a goal that many watching in the crowd and from home had to see a second time to understand.

"I didn't really have time to see who was in front or what was going on," he said. "I just tried to one-time it somewhere around the net and luckily the goalie was looking behind and it went in."

But while the goal may have been fortuitous, Bieksa's play of late has been turning heads - putting the 29-year-old into the discussion as a possible candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Bieksa has amassed nine points in 18 playoff games thus far including five in his last five games, highlighted by his unlikely winner in Game 5 to eliminate San Jose. He also leads the team in plus/minus at plus-10 and ice-time, averaging almost 26 minutes per game.

The Canucks blueliner credits the team's brief run in last year's playoffs with laying the foundation for his current elevated play.

"You always have confidence in yourself," he said. "I thought last year I had a pretty solid playoffs and I was happy with it and you just try to get better every year."

His offensive outburst this spring comes as little surprise to those who remember Bieksa's play from 2008-09 when he hit the 40-point plateau for the second time in his career.

However, in recent years, he has drawn attention less for creating offence and more for spending time in sick bay.

Over the past three seasons, Bieksa has not played more than 72 games in a season. That total dropped as low as 55 games played in 2009-10.

But he's at the top of his game now and ready to square off directly against one of the league's toughest teams in the Boston Bruins.

"Everyone knows about Boston," he said. "They're big and strong and tough. They play hard and gritty. [Zdeno] Chara is, in my opinion, one of the best players in the league and [Tim] Thomas is one of the best goaltenders."

Chara is the current playoff plus/minus leader at plus-11 and only he and teammate Dennis Seidenberg average more ice-time than Bieksa among remaining players.

Still, Bieksa seems to have found another gear and has earned the right to be mentioned alongside a giant blue line force like the former Norris Trophy winner, Chara.

And, the timing couldn't be better.

Bieksa, who becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, could be in line for a nice raise. Coming off a three-year deal that paid him an average annual salary of $3.75 million, his playoff performance could make him an attractive option for teams looking for blue line help this off-season.

"I've got the most important series of my life ahead of me," Bieksa said. "All that [contract] stuff, there's going to be plenty of time to take care of afterwards."

Bieksa may be taking the wait-and-see approach to focus on the task at hand, but should the Canucks prevail and win the franchise's first Stanley Cup, he may find himself at the top of the team's off-season priority list.

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