The Vancouver Canucks North West Division Champions when, after gaining one point in a 4-3 OT loss to Minnesota on Jan 31st, they were 12 points behind Calgary and had played 2 more games than the Flames?
While not quite worthy of miracle status, it's pretty damn close in today's NHL game where about 40% of the losing teams still get a point in the standings.
Yesterday in Colorado they once again battened down the hatches defensively and Roberto Luongo recorded his 2nd straight shutout to close out the season in a 1-0 OT victory. The no-hitter for Lui was his 9th of the year, in just 54 games, and moved his career and Franchise-high totals up by one while tying Kirk McLean for the Canucks' all-time record of 20 in just 203 games played, versus Captain Kirk's 514 games in a Vancouver uniform.
Of course the game before the back-to-back shutouts was the 4-1 win over the Flames where, quite possibly, Luongo played his best game ever stopping 46 of 47 shots to keep the Canucks' slim hopes alive of getting home-ice in the Playoffs.
So, in the last 3 games to finish the year they gave up a grand total of 1 goal against after allowing 14 in the 3 games before that … bottom-line they not only won the games they had to when they needed to, but they did it in a style that can only serve them well as the real season approaches.
So how did all this happen?
Well, obviously the Canucks took care of business going 23-7-2 since the start of February for the best winning percentage in the NHL, but it wouldn't have been possible without a little help from their friends.
Calgary, over the same period of time was 16-17-2 and lost 6 of their last 10 while the Canucks finished the year 6-3-1.
The Canucks rode their very impressive streak over the last 32 games to the top (after losing 8 straight) but they also were 14-6-2 in the first 22 games of the season, and when you add those all up you have a 37-13-4 record over 54 games (66% of the season) and a pace of 118 points … this was more than just a hot couple of months.
This is by far the best team we have seen in this city since 1994, as they are fairly deep in all areas and have a lot of balance throughout the line up, and even more importantly, are virtually 100% healthy heading into the playoffs.
5 players set new career-highs in goals … Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Kyle Wellwood and Mason Raymond.
6 players set new career-highs in points … Henrik, Kesler, Burrows, Kevin Bieksa, Willie Mitchell and Steve Bernier.
There are 5 20-goal scorers on the roster and another 6 who got to double digits with Mats Sundin getting 9 goals in 41 games.
The Sedins finished with 82 points apiece for 13th most in the league, while Henrik's 60 assists was 8th best league-wide.
Luongo missed 24 games on the IR but still managed to go 33-13-7 with the 9 shutouts, a GAA of 2.34 and a Save % of .920 … his wins being 9th best in the league, the shutouts 2nd, the GAA 4th and the Save % 5th, all while being criticized for much of the year.
This is a team that has all the ingredients: Goaltending, Defense, decent size, good speed, plenty of grit and abrasiveness, with more than enough offensive talent and balance amongst the forward lines to go with, perhaps, the best Leadership Group this Franchise has ever had in it's 39 years of NHL play.
Team-wise, here's where they rank:
Points 8th (100)
Goals for 11th (2.96)
Goals against 7th (2.6)
Shots for 24th (28.5)
Shots against 10th (29.2)
5-on-5 for/against 3rd (+ 1.21)
Powerplay 17th (18.8%)
Penalty Killing 16th (81.4%)
Leading after 2 periods 7th (.909)
Of all those stats the specialty teams is by far the most concerning, but it was only about a month ago that both the PP and PK were hovering around 25th. Of late the powerplay is clicking at close to 20% and they have killed off 29 of the last 31 penalties against.
All of this is great, but of course none of it gets you any wins in the playoffs, and after yesterday's win the Boys weren't exactly jumping for joy all high on themselves as they know the real work is just about to begin, and that, more than anything, is probably the best sign that the Canucks have a chance to go deep this spring.
After today we'll know who the first round opponent will be, either St Louis or Columbus at GM Place on Wednesday night … at this point it's almost irrelevant, if the Canucks play up to their potential and stay within themselves they can beat anyone in a 7-game series.
About the Author
Written by Mark Gage