The NHL’s division-heavy schedule has had no shortage of critics since it was established after the lockout, but you won’t hear fans of Northwest Division teams whining over the next two weeks that they only got to see Sidney Crosby once this season.
That’s because from now to the end of the regular season, the NHL will accomplish exactly what it set out to do when it pitted division rivals against each other eight times a year – have teams in one division playing against each other down the stretch with an incredible playoff race providing the backdrop.
Starting Thursday night against the Edmonton Oilers, the Canucks will embark on an eight-game flurry against Northwest rivals with their playoff hopes on the line. When the dust settles April 5, they could be the regular-season champions of the division and have the third seed in the Western Conference, or be packing their bags for an early summer vacation.
Does it get any more exciting than that? Plus, starting Thursday, all the other teams in the division will only have games remaining against Northwest teams.
And if this season’s history is any indication, the Canucks look to be in pretty good shape. They have a record of 12-6-5 against Northwest teams for a .630 winning percentage, which is second only to the Colorado Avalanche, who are at 15-8-1 vs. the Northwest for a .646 winning percentage.
After Tuesday's loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Calgary Flames have nine games remaining; The Oilers have eight after Tuesday’s win over the Phoenix Coyotes. After Wednesday's game against the San Jose Sharks, Colorado has eight games remaining, as does the Minnesota Wild, while the Canucks have nine.
And for those of you who haven’t checked the NHL standings lately, the battle for the Northwest is shaping up to be one of historic proportions. The Wild currently holds down first spot with 39 wins and 86 points. The Flames and Canucks had 37 wins and 84 points, while the Avalanche has 39 wins and 84 points, but only eight games remaining.
Another reason for optimism down the stretch for the Canucks is that three of those nine games down the stretch are against the Flames, against whom the Canucks have a 4-1-0 record, their best record against a Northwest team. They also have two each against Minnesota (3-2-1), Edmonton (3-0-3) and Colorado (2-3-1).
And if the Canucks can stay in the race with four of their next five games on the road, they’ll finish the season with four straight at GM Place, where their 20-11-5 record is the second-best home record in the division.
It’s really all the Canucks can expect – a chance to dictate their own destiny at the most important point in the season.
Let the fun begin.
This column also appears in the Vancouver Metro newspaper.
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