Higgins found himself
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — It was quite the career odyssey that brought Chris Higgins to the Canucks.
The Smithtown, N.Y., native, who turns 28 today, had two strong seasons with Yale, where he was a co-ECAC Player of the Year, a Hobey Baker finalist, and an NCAA first-team All-American in 2002-03.
He signed with the Canadiens, who drafted him No. 14 overall in 2002, and started in the minors. After tallying 48 points in 67 games his rookie year with Hamilton, he was named the Bulldogs’ Player of the Year in 2004-05 when NHL players were locked out. He had 51 points, including 28 goals, in 76 contests before moving to the Habs full-time.
After four seasons in Montreal — scoring more than 20 goals in three of them — Higgins struggled to find stability. He played 55 games with the Rangers and 12 with Calgary in 2009-10. Last year, he logged 48 games with Florida before landing in Vancouver at the trade deadline.
He has had an effective postseason, with game-winning goals in each of the first three series. He has played well on a line with high-scoring center Ryan Kesler and left wing Mason Raymond.
Higgins played 15 minutes, 49 seconds over 23 shifts and had one shot on net in last night’s 1-0 win over the Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.
It is always a transition to go to a new team, but when the team is as potent as the Canucks, finding your niche without disrupting the lineup can take some finesse.
For Higgins, establishing a comfort level was fairly easy.
“It was pretty quick,’’ he said. “I guess being on a team that was in first place in the league had something to do with it, with how well they were playing and how much talent and the competitors on this team.’’
But it wasn’t instantaneous.
“Before I got here, they were first in the league,’’ said Higgins. “So it was difficult to understand where I’d fit in. I knew I’d have to challenge for minutes and challenge for ice time.
“But I was ready to do that, to be a part of the group who had an unbelievable opportunity to do something special.’’
Hamhuis hurt The Canucks lost defenseman Dan Hamhuis early in the second period when he launched Bruins forward Milan Lucic during a low hit. It appeared Lucic’s knee rammed into Hamhuis’s midsection, which caused the blueliner to double over. Coach Alain Vigneault wouldn’t say much about Hamhuis except that he was day to day. The absence of Hamhuis, an important weapon against other teams’ top forwards, meant that the Canucks had to operate the majority of the game with five blue liners.
“Going down to five D midway through the second, with the intensity that was out there, was obviously taxing to our group,’’ said Vigneault. “But I thought our forwards did a good job of helping our defense out. I thought the five guys that handled the workload did a real good job of sharing the time. I thought our best period was our third period and we were down to five D at that time.’’
Malhotra is out Manny Malhotra, who continues to recover from an eye injury that required two surgical procedures, was not in the lineup in Game 1. The 31-year-old center said Saturday he had been medically cleared to play, but he missed his team’s final practice Tuesday, and it quickly became clear he wasn’t ready. Malhotra was struck by a puck in the left eye March 16, and Canucks general manager Mike Gillis said the player’s long-term health is top priority.
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.