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Low-profile pickups making their mark

Remember how boring the 2011 NHL trade deadline was?

Remember how boring the 2011 NHL trade deadline was?

The day started early with the Buffalo Sabres adding Brad Boyes and we didn’t see much bigger names move after that. Jason Arnott and Dennis Wideman to Washington, Rostislav Klesla to Phoenix, Dustin Penner to Los Angeles — it was a slow day. Nothing to write home about.

And it initially didn’t appear the Canucks did much, either. Usually a few deals are finalized just before the deadline and reported shortly after the cutoff time, and that’s when Vancouver’s two moves came to light.

In separate deals, the Canucks added Maxim Lapierre and Christopher Higgins for Evan Oberg, Joel Perrault and a couple of inconsequential draft picks. At the time, Vancouver’s third line was a force and neither of these guys had any business on a scoring line, so the team was essentially adding a couple of tenacious safety nets to the bottom of the lineup.

Yet here we are nearly three months later and these two trades look like the most effective additions of the deadline.

The injury to Manny Malhotra certainly threw a wrench into the flawless plans of GM Mike Gillis, but by adding Higgins and Lapierre, you now have to wonder if this guy has the ability to peer into the future.

Entering the playoffs, a big question around the Canucks had to do with the third and fourth lines that were upgraded over the summer of 2010, but hit a bit of a bad-luck streak late in the season. Those units haven’t proven to be a problem and a large reason for that is Higgins and Lapierre.

Higgins has been in the playoffs a few times before, but his seven points are a new career-high for the former Hab. The veteran showed some shrewd awareness in Game 2, when he delayed stepping onto the ice for his shift to get behind San Jose’s defence to toss a beautiful pass up to a streaking Kevin Bieksa.

Lapierre will never be confused as an offensive dynamo, but he’s been playing an effective in-your-face style without taking any of the bad penalties he’s known for, all while playing anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes per night. He does lead the team in penalty minutes, but those were misconducts that didn’t put the team at a disadvantage.

And, perhaps most importantly at this time of year, both are being responsible and courageous.

While the Sedins sit at a combined minus-14, Higgins and Lapierre are at a plus-8 and sit second and third, respectively, among Vancouver forwards in blocked shots (behind Ryan Kesler). Meanwhile, Lapierre leads Vancouver forwards and Higgins is third in hits, despite the fact neither of them log top minutes.

All this is exactly what you need from your grit players in the post-season. Gillis did a fantastic job fine-tuning his third line last summer, but it’s been the afterthought deadline moves that have really given his team an edge.

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