Canucks: Teddy Blueger is playoff fit, how he got name on Stanley Cup

Canucks’ Teddy Blueger is a versatile centre and will be valuable in the playoffs. He also got his name on the Stanley Cup without meeting criteria.

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Teddy Blueger has made a name for himself.

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He’s a prime-time penalty killer and Stanley Cup champion. How the feisty Vancouver Canucks’ centre became adept at denying the opposition is a good story. And so is how his name finally got on the Cup.

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Blueger didn’t qualify to have his name etched on the legendary league trophy last summer. He was dealt at the deadline from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Vegas Golden Knights and didn’t log the required 41 regular-season games with his new club.

And he didn’t appear in a 2023 final series game. Either one would have ensured eligibility.

However, teams can lobby under special circumstances — injured players missing games or the post-season — and the Golden Knights petitioned to have Blueger’s name included. They believed anyone with the club when they won it all deserved the ultimate recognition.

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That’s how the hearty party in Riga, Latvia, started for a grateful Blueger. True to his roots, he drank authentic borscht from the Cup prepared by his grandmother. And he made sure to take it on tour of his hometown.

“We had an event so people could take pictures and brought it around some spots, including my dad’s work, and at a restaurant on the beach for the night to have the Cup there,” Blueger recalled Monday.

Blueger, 29, did log six playoff games with the Golden Knights and another career 18 with the Penguins gives him perspective on what’s awaiting the Canucks. He knows about the grind, time-and-space restraints and elevated testosterone levels.

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Canucks centre Teddy Blueger celebrates his goal and 100th career NHL point on Nov. 24 in Seattle. Photo by Steph Chambers /Getty Images

“It gets increasingly more difficult,” said Blueger. “That’s one of the things I remember from last year. We were playing really well going into the playoffs and were able to carry that momentum. It’s something we can learn from, and honestly, it’s a privilege to play in these games. You don’t get it every year.

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“I’ve been on the other side of it in Pittsburgh. We’d clinch the division and lose in the first round and it’s a very disappointing feeling. It’s not going to mean anything if you don’t make most of the opportunity.”

Blueger also knows special teams rule the second season and an effective penalty kill is often the key to victory. He has gone 38 games without scoring after a run of nine points (3-6) in seven games in late December, so contributing in other ways became vital.

He has helped revive a porous penalty kill that once operated at an historic league low. It has vaulted into the top half of efficiency this season with a run of 25-for-29 the last 12 games and an 86.2 per cent efficiency over that span.

Overall, the Canucks are now ranked 16th at 79.7 per cent. To understand how good that is, you need to remember how bad it was.

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In 2021-22, former Canucks centre and penalty kill specialist Jason Dickinson had trouble sleeping. By early November, the club owned a pitiful 63.8 per cent kill rate. For a guy who took pride in putting power plays to sleep, it killed Dickinson’s sleep patterns.

Fast-forward and the hockey operations department deserves plaudits. Acquiring those with a penalty-kill pedigree like Blueger, Elias Lindholm, Carson Soucy, Filip Hronek and Ian Cole augmented what was in place.

Blueger’s penalty kill pairing with Lindholm, who continues to rehab an undisclosed injury, was a prime example of effectiveness. Lindholm’s strength in the faceoff circle, and Blueger’s ability to read and react, were crucial whether the Canucks deployed a diamond defensive system or a hybrid.

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“We came up with a lot of pucks to start with, which is very helpful, but overall Lindholm’s hockey sense is good and he’s really smart,” added Blueger. “He reads the play so well and has a good stick.

“We’ve tweaked a couple of things with the PK and were able to put together a decent run lately. It can be tough because really good power plays have a lot of movement and switching — the pocket guy going out wide or the far point guy going back door.”

If the Canucks improve resiliency and sustainability, they’ll be a threat in any playoff matchup. It’s why clinching their first post-season position in four years Saturday was taken in stride. It was just a step.

“It’s been a pretty good year up to this point, but I think we still have a long way to go,” stressed Blueger. “It’s important that we keep building and improving our level going into the playoffs so we have momentum and feeling good about our game.

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“It’s having guys committed and knowing what they have to do to be successful.”

He saw how that helped the Golden Knights dominate the Florida Panthers in the Cup Final.

“Great depth and they defended well as a team,” recalled Blueger. “You can’t rely on a few guys and it has to come from everybody. The experience of being there (playoffs) helps you mentally prepare for what to expect.”

OVERTIME: Brock Boeser left the ice during Monday practice for maintenance and head coach Rick Tocchet said he expects the winger to play Tuesday in Las Vegas. Nikita Zadorov will return to the lineup and Lindholm is on the trip. He has been skating to rehab an undisclosed injury. Thatcher Demko (knee) is on a recovery timeline to play before the playoffs.

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