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Vancouver Canucks' Mikael Samuelsson, of Sweden, celebrates after scoring against the Ottawa Senators during second period NHL hockey action in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday March 13, 2010. The goal is Samuelsson's 30th of the season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck (DARRYL DYCK)
Vancouver Canucks' Mikael Samuelsson, of Sweden, celebrates after scoring against the Ottawa Senators during second period NHL hockey action in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday March 13, 2010. The goal is Samuelsson's 30th of the season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck (DARRYL DYCK)

Matthew Sekeres

Samuelsson living the good life in Vancouver Add to ...

A career season, and making good on a giant middle finger.

For Mikael Samuelsson, life doesn't get better than this.

The Vancouver Canucks forward is skating with countrymen Daniel and Henrik Sedin on the NHL team's top line and showing Sweden's hockey establishment what it was missing at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Samuelsson was perhaps the most glaring Olympic snub - in his home city, no less - yet has responded with 20 of his career-high 30 goals since being bypassed for the likes of Mattias Weinhandl and Fredrik Modin when Sweden's team was selected in late December.

"Right now, it's fun reading the Swedish papers," teammate Daniel Sedin cracked. "He should've been on the team."

Samuelsson's immediate rebuttal was a comment he regretted - "they can go [expletive]themselves" - but he was vindicated when the defending Olympic champions finished a disappointing fifth. In the NHL, he has vindicated the omission as well, scoring nine goals in his last six games heading into a home contest against the Calgary Flames last night.

Samuelsson, a veteran of the 2006 gold-medal winning team, says he watched, uncomfortably, as Sweden beat Finland in the preliminary round of an Olympic tournament that would produce some of the best hockey ever played, before environments that gave competitors chills. At 33, it was likely Samuelsson's last Olympic chance.

"I would have loved to play here in the Olympics," he said. "The first time you see it, it's like 'Wow, this is going down now.' And it's frustrating."

Prompted about the second guessing back home, Samuelsson said: "I know there's a lot of talk. There's almost too much talk. People can talk as much as they want. I've moved on."

Moved on and moved up, onto Vancouver's top line with the Sedins.

Head coach Alain Vigneault conjured that combination during the third period of a game against Nashville last week, and Samuelsson ignited a three-goal comeback win. Vigneault stuck with the Tre Kronors for the next game, and Samuelsson delivered a hat trick and four points.

How to play with the twins was once one of hockey's most bamboozling questions. But first Alex Burrows, and now Samuelsson, have turned it into the money spot, a wing where players set career highs and form one of the NHL's best trios.

Burrows leads the team with 31 goals, and his career exploded when Vigneault authored a master stroke last year, promoting him to the first line, which triggered Vancouver's surge down the stretch.

Burrows's speed increased the Sedins' threat on the rush, yet Samuelsson plays more to his countrymen's pace. He sets up in scoring areas, and isn't afraid to shoot (a team-leading 206 shots).

"We think the game the same way," Samuelsson said. "It doesn't have to 100 miles an hour every time you're on the rush."

When Samuelsson signed as a free-agent last summer, he believed he would receive a more thorough opportunity to play with the Sedins. Instead, Vigneault chose the status quo, and used Samuelsson as a utility part on the second and third units, and on the power play.

But the recent tinkering has exhumed a favourite past pairing for Vigneault, Burrows with Ryan Kesler, a duo to which he was once married. It has also reunited Samuelsson with the Sedins, linemates at the 2006 Games.

For Samuelsson, finding a home has produced the best hockey of his nine-year career.

A late bloomer, the former fifth-round draft pick played for four organizations before establishing himself in Detroit, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2008. He signed a two-year, $5-million (U.S.) contract with the Canucks hoping to increase his offensive profile, and his 52 points have already improved on his previous best (45 points).

"I like the life I have now," he said. "The family life. The atmosphere in the locker room. Playing a lot of minutes. What can you not like about it?"

Follow on Twitter: @mattsekeres

 

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