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Uncommon sense

Part of what makes Vancouver’s Sedin twins phenomenal is their familiarity

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / June 1, 2011

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Brian Burke was livid. He had traveled to Sweden expecting to see greatness. Or, at least, to see enough hockey skill and potential to justify the complicated machinations that had resulted in his team, the Vancouver Canucks, landing identical twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin with the second and third picks in the 1999 draft. Instead, they were awful.

“They’d better be sick,’’ then-Vancouver general manager Burke recalled saying to the Canucks’ Swedish scout, who was sent to talk to the brothers after MoDo’s game in the Swedish Elite League. “They’d better both have the flu. Because if that’s how they’re going to play, then did I ever make a big mistake drafting them.’’

The brothers, still in high school, had stayed up until 4 a.m. studying for a calculus exam. They had barely slept.

“That’s the best answer I’ve ever had from a kid for having a bad game, is that he stayed up and studied,’’ said Burke. “I love it.’’

There is, fortunately for the Sedins, no more calculus to worry about. And few poor performances from two of the NHL’s elite players. In the last two years, each has captured the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s scoring leader, Henrik winning in 2010 and Daniel this season. Daniel is a finalist for the Hart Trophy (league MVP) this season, which Henrik won last year.

“They were better than two players,’’ said Burke, now the GM of the Maple Leafs. “If you had the second and third pick or third and fourth pick in the draft and you take John Doe and Joe Smith, in all likelihood you get two good players. But these guys are better. When you add Daniel and Henrik together, you get more than two players. You get the impact of 2 1/2 to 3 players.’’

The Sedins credit the amount of games they’ve played together, not any special connection between twins.

“If you put two guys together that don’t know each other and play different styles, they’re going to pick up certain things and they’re going to play well together, if they play for this long together,’’ Henrik said. “For me and Danny, we’re extremely similar as players. That’s the difference between us and other players who play for a long time, that we’re really similar as players and think through the game the same way.’’

Added Daniel, “We’ve been playing on the same line since we were 12. It has nothing to do with telepathy.’’

Others disagree. As Alex Burrows, their linemate said, “They communicate like dolphins. Obviously to have that sixth sense that they know where they are on the ice, it’s just fun to be a part of that.’’

Burke remembers seeing them in the World Games in Winnipeg and in the World Championships in Oslo. It was during the latter tournament, with the twins still teenagers, that he saw it. It’s what led him to the phones before that 1999 draft in Boston. It was what led to this moment, as the Sedins take the ice tonight against the Bruins, playing for their first Stanley Cup.

“That’s where I saw their sixth sense, the passes they made to each other, that’s where the wheels started turning on the trade,’’ Burke said. “It’s the same [now]. It’s probably a little more refined, just with the path and the time and another 10 years of playing together. But they had that when they were 17 years old, they had that in their draft year.’’

So Burke, already possessing the No. 3 pick, set forth in his plan of getting both twins. First, he sent defenseman Bryan McCabe and a 2000 first-round pick to Chicago for the fourth overall choice. Next, that fourth pick and two third-rounders went to Tampa Bay for the No. 1 choice. That pick went to Atlanta for the second choice and a 2000 third-round pick, which gave the Canucks No. 2 and No. 3. Atlanta took Patrik Stefan, and the Canucks got their twins.

In fact, Burke said, Vancouver had planned to try to obtain another pick to get Stefan too. That didn’t work out. The Sedins did.

“I think it gave our organization credibility,’’ Burke said, though the Sedins remained in Sweden for a year. “People forget at the end of my first year in Vancouver, when we drafted the twins, our season-ticket base was 7,600. We frequently played to crowds of 11,000 and 12,000 people. They talk about all the sellouts in Vancouver. Well, that all started with the twins.’’

The Sedins were criticized earlier this postseason, their stat line not matching up with their star power. Against Chicago and Nashville, the twins went through a well-reported drought in which they combined for just one goal and one assist over seven games. Then, they exploded. Henrik now leads the playoffs with 21 points. Daniel has 16, tied for ninth.

“We’ve been through a lot of tough years here, we’ve been getting criticized,’’ Daniel said. “For us, I think we learn to analyze our game. It’s not up to the media or fans to analyze our game, we can do that ourselves. We know that if we don’t score then we’re going to get criticized. But for us, we can still feel like we’re playing a good game even though we don’t score.

“You can get too focused on points and goals. It’s more about how you play.’’

It’s hard to argue with the way the twins have played in recent years. The more interesting argument concerns whether they would have been so good had they not played together.

“You need good players [around you],’’ Burrows said. “Obviously they’re playing together, they’re able to read plays. They’ve been playing together all their lives, and that’s what makes them so good. But even with other players, they would have been successful.’’

As successful? It’s hard to know. They have always had each other, always had another person, of the same size, shape, and talent level, against whom they could measure themselves, against whom they could compete. For Daniel, Henrik was always there. For Henrik, Daniel was.

They still are.

And now they are four wins from completing the final task, winning the Stanley Cup, together.

“There are still a lot of people who think you need to win a banner before you can call yourself a great player, and they haven’t had the team success they’d like to have yet,’’ Burke said. “But player-wise, can they get much better than the 100-point range? I don’t know. I’d like to say yes.

“You start with the basic fact that they do everything well. What makes them special is that sixth sense. They find each other.

“They make area passes, what looks like an area pass to a blank sheet of ice and it ends up [in the net]. They just anticipate and find each other with the puck to a degree, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, and I don’t expect to again.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmalieBenjamin.

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