VANCOUVER - One is a quiet Swede who roars when he steps on the ice. The other is a speedy German with a nose for the net.
Defencemen Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff are a couple of the players the Vancouver Canucks are counting on to make a difference against the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL Western Conference semifinal. The best-of-seven series opens Saturday in Chicago (CBC, 8 p.m. ET).
Edler, a soft-spoken native of Ostersund, Sweden, was a bruiser in the Canucks' six-game victory against the Los Angeles Kings in the opening round of the playoffs. He bashed and banged, while leading the team with an average 24:50 of ice time a game.
Edler demonstrated his muscle with a crushing hit against Kings defenceman Drew Doughty in the opening game, then showed finesse when he used his speed to run down Michal Handzus on a breakaway in Game 6. He also picked up three points, including one goal, and was plus-7.
"I want to try to be physical when I can and get some hits in when the opportunities are there," Edler said after the Canucks practised Wednesday.
"I don't think I've ever been the most physical guy but it's something I am trying to get better at."
Game 2 will be played Monday in Chicago. The series then returns to Vancouver for games Wednesday and Friday.
One of the criticisms Vancouver faced in the fallout of losing last year's conference semifinal to Chicago was the team lacked a mobile defenceman who could handle the puck and score goals.
To fill that role the Canucks acquired Ehrhoff in a trade with the San Jose Sharks. The native of Moers, Germany, led all Canucks defenceman during the regular season with 14 goals, six on the power play, and 44 points. He finished the season a plus-36.
"That's my game," said Ehrhoff. "My skating is one of my strongest assets. When I'm skating well, I'm at my best."
Ehrhoff had a goal and two assists in the first round and averaged 24:39 of ice time, just slightly less than Edler.
Coach Alain Vigneault said one of Ehrhoff's talents is bringing the puck out of his own end, something the Canucks will need against the aggressive Hawks.
"The least amount of time we spent in our zone against that team, the better off we will be," said Vigneault. "One of Christian's greatest attributes is going back for pucks, hard.
"One he gets it, if he doesn't see the (passing) option, he skates it out. We are going to need that."
Centre Kyle Wellwood said Ehrhoff's offensive skills creates time and space for the Vancouver forwards.
"He has a great shot from the blue-line and likes to shoot," said Wellwood.
"The one thing that really helps the forwards is he's able to penetrate their defencemen on the rush and get to the net. That's very difficult to do as a D-man."
Daniel Sedin still shivers when he thinks about playing against Ehrhoff when he was a Shark.
"He's such an offensive threat when he gets going," said Sedin. "When he got the puck, you were scared.
There was some fear in Vancouver when a concussion knocked Willie Mitchell, the Canucks' best shutdown defenceman, out of the lineup.
Edler, who has been paired with veteran Sami Salo, has stepped into Mitchell's role. The pair will probably face the Hawks' top line.
"It's a big challenge to play against their top players," said Edler. "It's not going to be easy but I am looking forward to taking that challenge.
"It's going to be fun."
Chicago's lineup is stocked with big, physical forwards. The six-foot-three, 215-pound Edler isn't about to back down.
"You can be physical against anyone," he said. "You just have to be physical at the right time."
Salo has seen a steady improvement in Edler, whom the Canucks picked 91st overall in the 2004 draft.
"Last year the playoffs was a learning process for him," said Salo. "The intensity goes up in the playoffs.
"This year he has raised his intensity level and is a solid D-man."
Vigneault feels comfortable using Edler in any situation.
"He has become really dependable at both ends of the rink," Vigneault said. "He plays the power play, kills penalties.
"He is becoming a really good, all-around defenceman."
The Canucks got some good news when forward Ryan Johnson (broken foot) and defenceman Aaron Rome (lower body injury) skated Wednesday.
Both remained listed as day to day.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo did not practise with the Canucks. He went on the ice after the team and worked with goaltending consultant Ian Clark.
"Today was more of a battle drill day on the ice," Vigneault said with a smile."He (Clark) thought he would get more out of Roberto doing a one-on-one cuddling session after practice. I let them do their thing."