No Ho-Hum about it, Tuesday night’s 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars was not just a record-setting 10th straight win at GM Place; it was an exclamation point on a stretch of games that has seen the Canucks not only officially remove themselves from the quagmire of mediocrity surrounding the final playoff spots in the western conference (now 9 points clear of 9th), but one that makes the potential of home-ice advantage in the first round a very real possibility.
With Chicago losing again (3-6-1 in their last 10), this time to Marty Brodeur’s record-breaking 552nd win in Jersey, the Canucks now find themselves tied with the once high-flying Black Hawks for 4th place. The Hawks still have a game in hand but the way both teams are playing at the polar-opposite end of the spectrum, and the fact that the two still have one game left against each other (in 11 days from now), you have to like the Canucks’ chances.
Then there’s that team sitting on the other side of the Rockies who not too long ago were 10 points up with games in hand who are now are only 3 points ahead of the Canucks, and you know the Flames are looking over their shoulders … that is, when they are not shielding their eyes to the bright red light that seems to be always on behind Mikka Kiprusoff. Like Chicago, there is still one game on both team’s schedule where the two go head-to-head: Game #80 on April 7th , which may go along way in determining which team takes the North West Division and the 3rd seed in the west.
Now 15-3-1 in the last month and a half, last night’s win had the feel of a playoff game from the start and was full of positives for the guys in Blue.
From the 3 gorgeous goals capped off with perhaps the prettiest Canucks goal ever on a 4-way passing play; to a perfect night on the power play (2-for-2); to a stellar night of penalty killing (6-for-7); to domination in the face-off circle (67%); the boys were clicking on all cylinders playing a brand of hockey that is starting to make the boring defense-only style of play in the past few years more of distant memory as each game goes by.
The only possible complaint is the fact that they took far too many penalties … the Stars had 11:29 worth of man-up time (versus just 1:09 for the Canucks) including a 46 second 5-on-3 early in the 3rd and almost a full 2 minutes of 6-on-4 when Marty Turco was pulled with 2 ½ minutes left in the game.
The PK has been a serious issue with this team all year and, quite frankly, they should be a top-10 team instead of hovering between 15th and 25th like they have all year. Like everything else in their game of late, you can now readily see the confidence and swagger returning to their penalty killing: they are once again being very aggressive forcing the opposition at every turn, and when they do retrieve the puck, they aren’t just swinging wildly at it hoping to somehow get the puck out of the zone.
Now you’re seeing all the guys stay calm, and many times make smart passes to someone else who they know is in the right position supporting them and has more options than they themselves have. They’ve now killed off 24 of the last 26 and last night everyone was very efficient at it, led by Willie Mitchell who was on the ice for a ridiculous 8:16 of those 11:29 they were a man short against the Stars.
Add it all up and you have a team that is playing like a TEAM, and doing it, for the most part, in a very entertaining fashion.
Prior to the season starting most Pundits had the Canucks struggling to make the playoffs and now, while a few remain steadfastly unconvinced that this team should be mentioned in the same sentence as the Detroits or the San Joses, the smart ones know that no team would relish facing this Vancouver team in a 7-game series.
Yes things are going well right now and it is easy to get carried away and think they are better than they are but I have said from day one that this was a solid team, a playoff team, and one that is far better than any of it’s recent predecessors. All the ingredients are there; from the goal crease out including size, grit, speed and offensive talent, but of course none of the games are played on paper, but, that also works both ways … anything can happen.
Alex Burrows, now in a slump after not even getting a point last night, probably summed it up best after the very strong 60-minute effort from the entire team:
“I remember our first (team) meeting of the year. It was just when all the experts were putting us out of the playoffs. We talked about using that as motivation. ‘Make the playoffs and anything can happen,’ we said. But the way we’re playing now, if everyone keeps going like this, anything and everything is possible.”
Moving On Up is definitely a better alternative to the opposite, and a whole heck of a lot more fun for the long-suffering Canuck Nation.
The Grades …
A … Mitchell, Kesler, Johnson
B … Luongo, Salo, O’Brien, Sundin, Demitra, Wellwood, Raymond
C+ … Bieksa, Ohlund, Henrik, Daniel, Burrows, Bernier, Pyatt, Hordichuk
C … Edler
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Written by Mark Gage