VANCOUVER - Nashville Predators outspoken defenceman Shane O’Brien is vowing to be on his best behaviour against his former Vancouver Canucks team in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"You’d like to help out offensively, but it's no secret that's not really my forte," said O'Brien following his club's morning skate before Thursday’s opening game of their Western Conference semi-final series. "So I’m just going to be strong defensively, try to be physical and stay out of the box."
O'Brien, one of his club’s key penalty-killers, racked up 14 minutes in the first round against the Anaheim Ducks. During the series, Nashville coach Barry Trotz told him to control himself more and, upon his club's arrival to Vancouver Wednesday, said he won’t tolerate any shenanigans from O'Brien against the Canucks.
O'Brien indicated he will heed his coach's advice.
"I had some penalty trouble in the first series which, I guess, has followed me around in my career," said O'Brien. "But I thought I was better in Game 5 and Game 6. It's such a fine line and, obviously, (the officials) are calling it quite a bit closer this year."
The 27-year-old Port Hope, Ont., native left the Canucks acrimoniously in October after he ran afoul of coach Alain Vigneault and management late last season for missing a morning skate and was effectively suspended for about a week. O'Brien was happy to find a home in Nashville via trade, but the departure from the West Coast still rankles.
"It’s more about the Nashville Predators versus the Vancouver Canucks than it is about me getting any redemption or anything," said O’Brien. "But, obviously, you want to beat out the team that traded you. If anyone said that wasn't true, they’d be lying. Definitely, there's some motivation for me."
In four regular-season games against the Canucks, O'Brien, an extremely popular player in the Vancouver dressing room, engaged in a war of words with his former teammates and scuffled with Alex Burrows in one game. Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has told defenceman Kevin Bieksa not to badmouth O'Brien on the ice, but the Predators defenceman expects some banter with his former blue-line partner.
"I’m sure there'll be some chirping back and forth…I can get under his skin just as easy as he can, maybe, get under my skin," said O'Brien.
"What gets overlooked with a lot of the stuff with him is that he’s actually a really good hockey player," said Bieksa. "I think, personally, he plays his best hockey in the playoffs. He's a very emotional guy, and when he keeps his emotions in check, he's extremely effective. He's a big body. He's really strong on his feet. He protects the pucks well, makes good plays, so he's an effective player."
O’Brien was critical of Vigneault following the trade and upon his return to Vancouver for the teams' first regular-season meeting, citing a lack of communication. But O'Brien now praises his former bench boss and says his Vancouver experiences have helped him mature.
"You always learn stuff after the fact," said O’Brien. "Unfortunately, sometimes you’ve gotta learn the hard way."
Meanwhile, Burrows, the hero of Vancouver’s seventh-game overtime victory Tuesday over Chicago, was still celebrating Thursday morning—but not just because of his winning goal. His wife Nancy gave birth to their first child, a five-pound girl named Victoria on Wednesday night.
"It's been a lot of emotions the last 24 hours," said Burrows. "Hockey-wise, it was very nice. But, personally, it was even better to get a first child. We’re really happy. Everyone did a great job. Everybody, doctors and nurses, were unbelievable so it was a special night."
Burrows was feeling refreshed–even after a late night and morning skate that was held an hour earlier than usual because of an early game time for Hockey Night in Canada.
"I stayed a few hours at the hospital after the birth (at 9:10 p.m. Wednesday) night, but the wife, she knew I needed some sleep," said Burrows. "So she said, 'Go home and get some rest.'"
Burrows was happy that his daughter arrived between games. He said there was "a chance" he would have missed Game 7 against the Blackhawks if she had entered the world earlier.
"At the same time, my wife knew to keep to keep the lid on a little bit longer," said Burrows. "But the emotions (of Game 7) maybe triggered (the birth) a little bit."