Gudbranson, Canucks ready for rematch with Leafs

BY foxsports • December 2, 2016

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Erik Gudbranson is not plotting Matt Martin's death after all.

Gudbranson, a Vancouver Canucks defenseman, vowed that Martin, a pesky Toronto Maple Leafs winger, was "dead" after he caused havoc in a fight-filled game in the teams' last meeting Nov. 5. The Canucks rearguard was furious after the Maple Leafs won 6-3 at home.

But as the Canucks (10-12-2) prepared for Saturday's return engagement against the Maple Leafs (10-9-4) at Rogers Arena, a calm Gudbranson chalked up his threat to "a fit of rage."

"Do I mean it?" he said Friday. "No. That's the honest truth. I'm not gonna kill the guy. But I was just frustrated at that point. Unfortunately, (the public reaction) got taken to a level that I didn't expect."

The best way for the Canucks to get revenge, he said, is to get two points for a win. That will be hard to do in a building that is guaranteed to be raucous - as is the case whenever the Maple Leafs visit Vancouver.

The Maple Leafs, one of the NHL's Original Six franchises, have a legion of West Coast fans who make their presence known in the arena while the Canucks' faithful battle to be heard.

"That's the exciting part," Gudbranson said. "The rink's going to be buzzing tomorrow. We feed off that, for sure."

But Gudbranson stressed the need for the Canucks not to get too excited ahead of time.

"Within this dressing room, it's huge for us just to stay focused and be calm going into games like that," he added. "Building it up is one thing. But if we're coming in all amped up, that's when systems fall apart and mistakes happen."

The Canucks were upset with Martin for punching rookie defenseman Troy Stecher while he was down on the ice in Vancouver's end late in the Nov. 5 game. Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller came to Stecher's aid, and a brawl ensued with Miller and Toronto netminder Frederik Andersen both getting tossed out.

But Stecher, 22, who began the season in the minors and has played a prominent role with veteran defensemen Chris Tanev (ankle) and Alex Edler (finger) out with injuries, shrugged off the potential for more fireworks on Saturday.

"It's a hockey game," he said. "Tempers are gonna fly high. You've gotta just try to stay in the moment. I think, if you do that, everything will just take care of itself."

Stecher, who was born and raised in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, B.C., will play his first game against the Maple Leafs in his hometown after previously witnessing the exuberance that Toronto-Vancouver games generate. He called the opportunity "exciting" but also downplayed it.

"Obviously, the buzz around town is pretty high," Stecher said. "But for us, it's just another hockey game."

However, the Canucks do not want to produce another game like they did Thursday in a 3-1 home loss to Anaheim. The Ducks dominated for most of the non-contest.

Accordingly, the Canucks expressed more concern about the need to improve on that showing than avenge past misdeeds by Toronto.

"I don't know what kind of game it's gonna be (Saturday)," Canucks defenseman Luca Sbisa said. "All I know is that we're pretty well-prepared. We weren't happy (with) the way we played (Thursday) night. So we're gonna try and make up for it (Saturday)."

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs were also calling for calm. Martin did not pay much heed to Gudbranson's threat, which was uttered as the Canucks' defenseman stormed into their dressing room after the loss in November.

"I am sure he was emotional after the game," Martin told reporters Friday. "I don't know. He made comments, I guess, that you (media) guys heard. I didn't. But that is what it is. I'm not going to get into too much detail about it."

The Maple Leafs are looking to rebound from a 3-0 loss in Calgary on Wednesday night. Center Nazem Kadri told the Toronto Sun this week that he expects some hostility in Vancouver, but he also believes that cooler heads will prevail. Kadri was also a target of Canucks' scorn after he nailed veteran winger Daniel Sedin in the previous outing.

The Canucks had hoped Kadri would receive a suspension for a head shot, but the league decided otherwise. Kadri downplayed the incident Friday and expressed his respect for Sedin.

"I mean, I don't want to revisit this too much," Kadri told reporters. "I just tried to be hard on him, finish my check. I'm happy the league saw it the same way. By no means do I want to see anybody hurt out there, and I know he's a very important player to their team, and he's been in the league for a lot of years. So I respect him a ton."

Toronto coach Mike Babcock, whose youth-laden team is 5-4-1 in its last 10 games, is not expecting a repeat of the November shenanigans. He contended that both teams will want to stay disciplined in order to avoid giving up power-play goals.

Also, heavily hyped games do not usually live up to their billing.

"What I have found over the years is that there is always a lot of talk - and nothing happens," Babcock told reporters.

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