The Vancouver Canucks have stayed firmly within the playoff hunt despite key injuries to star players that would put most other teams on the brink of the draft lottery.
But with the return of Daniel Sedin, the all-world play of Roberto Luongo –making a clear case for him to become Team Canada’s Olympic starter – and a coming-of-age of sorts for Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond, all excuses are off the table and a push must be made.
Do you know how many quality wins the Canucks have this season? How about one. That’s right. One. Out of all the games they have played so far, one has turned into a win really worth celebrating. That’s not a stat common among playoff teams, not to mention Cup contenders, of which Vancouver is supposed to be one.
Looking back, the Canucks have dominated Colorado and Los Angeles, who are both having good seasons thus far, but both lack the quality of the league’s truly elite. Colorado is crashing back to reality after a hot start that fooled few and while Los Angeles is taking great strides towards the playoffs, they are still a young team that a tested one like Vancouver should defeat more often than not.
The lone big victory came way back on Oct. 21 in Chicago, when Vancouver defeated their nemesis 3-2. It was huge because it was the first time the teams had met since the young Hawks dumped the favored Canucks in Round 2 of the playoffs and also because it was on the road.
Some will point to the Rangers as another quality win, but the Broadway Boys came out like gangbusters in the same sense the Avs did and have since shown signs that their current group isn’t really much more than a fringe playoff team.
Losses to Detroit (twice), Calgary (twice), San Jose (once) and even Chicago (once) are alarming. When all you’re doing is taking liberties on the Torontos, Minnesotas and Edmontons of the world, you’re lucky to even get to the playoffs. And if you do make it that far, you’re overwhelmed.
Currently a handful of points out of the playoffs, the games to watch for Vancouver in December come against New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington and Calgary – three of which are on the road - the most important being the Calgary matchup, since inter-divisional and inter-conference points come at a premium.
It goes without saying wins are needed versus Atlanta, Minnesota, Anaheim, Nashville and Phoenix, so it’s those statement games Vancouver must start pulling down or else they run the risk of facing a late-season hill too high and too slippery to climb.
This article also appeared in the Vancouver Metro newspaper.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web content specialist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays.
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