BUFFALO — Antoine Roussel was the last player to emerge from the dressing room late Thursday night because he was the first one in the fight to help fuel the Beat down in Boston.
And that meant the agitating Vancouver Canucks’ winger was getting treatment after treating the Boston Bruins to his belligerent brand of big-boy hockey.
It meant jawing with David Backes and an ensuing mosh-pit in the opposition crease. It meant having a first-period scoring chance with a noticeably improved stride, drawing two penalties in the offensive zone — instead of taking them — while throwing three hits and scoring in the second period to give the Canucks a 5-3 lead en route to an 8-5 NHL victory.
“The biggest challenge every night is to get everybody emotionally involved and against the Bruins, it’s easy because they have a lot of response in their game,” Roussel said Friday. “That triggers me and then the dominoes fall and it’s a fun game to play.
“And when you play one of the best lines in the league (Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak) everyone gets to share the job because we don’t have the matchups. It’s fun to be part of a group that doesn’t back down.”
Roussel checked all the boxes and ticked off yet another team. The big Bruins line was held to one goal and two points and Erik Gubranson made one telling summation.
“I hated playing against him,” said the Canucks’ defenceman. “That was the stuff that used to drive me crazy and he’s been playing great for us.
“(Roussel) brings a piece of the puzzle that might have been missing last year. It’s impressive how consistent he is with it every game. He’s a bull in a china shop and makes us better.”
And if you think that sounds like prehistoric hockey logic in a league where youth, speed and skill rule the day, listen to Travis Green. The Canucks’ coach knows another voice of reason on the ice and in the room and those sharp elbows are imperative for his transitioning and impressionable roster.
Looked what happened in Boston. The Canucks weren’t intimidated and often initiated.
“He brings a lot of energy. He drags you into games,” said Green. “He has a high compete level and is energetic on the bench. He talks a lot and appreciates little plays that guys do and you hear about it. He has been good for our group.”
Being good meant getting over a bad mishap.
After suffering a concussion Aug. 30 during an informal scrimmage collision in Montreal — his final game of the summer — he experienced significant post-concussion symptoms. They were so bad the 28-year-old free-agent acquisition saw a specialist in Detroit before symptoms finally subsided to allow him to return Oct. 13 and score in Florida.
However, Roussel lost conditioning time with the concussion and his four-year, US$12 million contract was under scrutiny because his stride wasn’t there and it affected his ability to push the pace.
Now he can, but it’s a tough dozen minutes because his motor always has to run hot. If it doesn’t, he’ll blend in rather than stick out.
Roussel has been effective on a line with Markus Granlund and Tyler Motte and could see some shutdown duty Saturday here against the Sabres in a matinee game. But it won’t be easy to shut down Jack Eichel, who leads his club with 19 points, and is one of the game’s emerging stars.
“It’s managing my energy,” admitted Roussel. “You need fresh legs because everybody is so fast now. I’m getting closer. I can be better with the puck and make better passes and reads, but it’s getting there.
“Sometimes, it feels like it takes 15 games for everything to slow down for you, but I’m making a lot of progress.”
Roussel’s third goal of the season Thursday won’t make the highlight reels. However, he got to the net and tipped a Markus Granlund wide-angle shot that chased Jaroslav Halak from the net.
“I remember the celly,” Roussel recalled of his animated goal celebration. “We had a long shift and I thought I better change and I ended up staying longer and scoring. We had depth scoring that night and it was huge because it can’t always be the big guns.”
This Canucks team reminds Roussel of the one he joined in Dallas in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
The Stars were going through a rebuild and Brenden Dillon (21), Reilly Smith (21), Cody Eakin (21) and Jamie Benn (23) were part of an emerging forward core. But there was also Eric Nystrom (29) and Vernon Fiddler (32) to guide younger players. The following season, Tyler Sequin (21) was acquired.
“It felt like this,” recalled Roussel. “You learn from the older players how to deal with situations. And what was intriguing for me to come here was (Bo) Horvat and (Elias) Pettersson, two high-end centres and it’s so hard to get that in this league.
“I’m pretty happy with my choice. This is a good fit.”
Vancouver Canucks at Buffalo Sabres
10 a.m., KeyBank Center, SNETP, SNET 650 AM
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