When the curtain came crashing down last spring, Sami Salo was struggling to find his stride with searing testicle pain after being struck by a puck, Alex Edler was lost to an ankle injury and Willie ­Mitchell was sidelined by post-concussion syndrome.

Kevin Bieksa and Andrew Alberts couldn't plug the gaping holes and, in the end, the Vancouver Canucks drew one conclusion.

In another six-game, second-round playoff series setback to the ­eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, they were overmatched and overworked. And they vowed that would not be the case this NHL season.

The Canucks would get better and deeper, landing Dan Hamhuis in free agency and Keith Ballard in a trade. It helped bring a collective calm and resilience in a run to the franchise's first Presidents' ­Trophy without the top six defencemen intact until the regular-season finale Saturday in ­Calgary.

The Canucks not only have a top shutdown pairing in Bieksa and Hamhuis to start the postseason, they have enviable depth. They didn't have it a year ago.

"No, we didn't," said general manager Mike Gillis. "We had injuries and were determined to get as deep as we possibly could on defence. Starting the playoffs like this is a real bonus."

The Canucks will be favoured Wednesday when the conference quarterfinal series commences. But the Blackhawks will play the psychological card of back-to-back playoff series triumphs and laying a 7-1 whupping on the Canucks in a Nov. 20 no-show by the locals at Rogers Arena.

It sparked a team meeting and an incredible 44-13-6 sprint to end of the regular season.

"It was an embarrassing loss for us, but I don't think a lot of guys even remember that," recalled Bieksa. "We've grown a lot and overcome a lot of adversity. It's a whole new team now. And we're a lot different than last year mentally.

"We don't get over-anxious after whistles but until we beat these guys, it will be in the back of our heads. We really don't want to ­tiptoe around anybody, and what better way to start than with the defending champs?"

The Canucks led the league in goals and power-play percentage and surrendered the fewest goals, and were also third on the penalty kill. All that despite playing musical chairs on the back end and using 13 blueliners through the course of an injury-riddled and record-­setting 117-point season.