Once again

Game 1: Canucks seek revenge against Flames in Calgary

Bo Horvat and Jared McCann fill in below Henrik Sedin, as the Canucks go up against the team that eliminated them in April.

Game 1 already?

After a long summer and an early exit, with plenty of debate and disappointment and second-guessing swirling around a first round loss, a slow draft, a regressive free agency period and finally a hopeful preseason, the Vancouver Canucks get back to business tonight against the Calgary Flames.

Longtime offensive leaders Henrik and Daniel Sedin will start on the first line tonight with new acquisition Brandon Sutter, who came to Vancouver as a presumed depth center, in the same arena the Canucks were wiped out in last April.

“You’re definitely going in with a chip on your shoulder, you know, for them to beat us out in the playoffs last year just adds extra fuel to the fire,” said sophomore Bo Horvat, who excelled and improved steadily last season, his first in the NHL.

“It should be a good game, I think we’re all pretty ready for it.”

Suddenly, that was five months ago, when an upstart Flames team toppled a Canucks squad that’s been treading water since its second President Trophy in 2012.

“Revenge is often a great motivating factor and, after last season’s disappointing playoff ouster, there’s no better way for the Canucks to kick start a brand new season than with an inspired performance against the team that ended their Stanley Cup aspirations last season,” writes Daniel Fung, in his opening night preview on Canucks.com.

Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Jiri Hudler return for Calgary, as do blueliners Mark Giordano, Dennis Wideman, and Kris Russell. Standout blueliner TJ Brodie – who was excellent in last spring’s series against Vancouver – will miss time with a broken bone in his hand, while Karri Ramo is expected to start in net.

The Flames will also trot out prized acquisitions Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik, acquired in the summer, and 18-year-old Sam Bennett, who’s now 19.

Vancouver meanwhile will start Ryan Miller in net, and – in a surprising development – he’ll be backed up by Richard Bachman, who steps in for the apparently injured Jacob Markstrom.

And just after the Canucks said Markstrom was ready for the spotlight, too…

As mentioned above, Sutter is expected to start alongside the Twins on Vancouver’s first line, giving Bo Horvat, Jared McCann, and Adam Cracknell room to play down the middle – and in that order.

Horvat should play between wingers Radim Vrbata and Sven Baertschi, while McCann will split Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen, and Cracknell will likely play with Brandon Prust and Derek Dorsett on the fourth line.

That makes Jake Virtanen the odds-on extra forward, which would postpone the former Calgary Hitmen star’s NHL debut and extend the timeframe for his nine-game audition.

Yannick Weber is expected to join Virtanen as Vancouver’s other healthy scratch, with last year’s powerplay quarterback passed over for Game 1 in favour of Luca Sbisa, Matt Bartkowski, and rookie Ben Hutton, who had five points in seven preseason games played.

“The nerves are there, for sure,” Hutton said Wednesday morning. “I just have to try to block them out and play my game. I have to be ready.”

Face-off is set for 7 p.m. PST from the Saddledome in Calgary. The game will be broadcast on Sportsnet (TV) and TSN 1040 (radio).

PREVIEW: Canucks vs Flames – Game 1, October 7, 2015

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