Playoff Dreaming…

Change is coming, change IS here. Did you believe that statement would be true prior to the start of the season? It truly is incredible to witness what the Vancouver Canucks have accomplished this season. Yes, it is true, that it is not a record breaking year and from the outside looking in, it might seem hardly remarkable. This season was supposed to be a season focused on rebuilding following the disaster that was the 2013-14 regular season or at least that’s what the media told us. And after the season that was last year, who could blame them for thinking that is what comes next?

Just who are these Vancouver Canucks?! These are the Canucks brought to you by, former captain Trevor Linden. Along with Linden for the ride is GM Jim Benning and newly minted head coach, Willie Desjardins. The trio was determined to turn things around THIS season while at the same time building for the future. They may not be winning every game or necessarily the games that people would expect them to, but they are finding ways to be competitive more nights than not. They have maintained a playoff position for most of the season and continue to be in a competitive race for a second place finish in the Pacific Division with 90 points and eight games remaining still to be played. Through 74 games, Desjardins has coached the team to a 43-27-4 record. The odds unlike last season, are actually in their favour heading down the stretch drive to the post season.

There have been a lot of surprises this season. Who knew that when GM Benning signed Radim Vrbata that he would become such an integral piece of the Canucks puzzle? He leads the team in goals with 29 and has proven to be valuable on ANY line he is playing on in every situation. He is consistently consistent every game. He scores goals with finesse, like THIS one:

And then there is the curious case of Alex Burrows who notoriously struggled on the Torts regime due to multiple injuries and a lack of understanding between player and coach. THIS year he has once again proven to be reliable in all areas of the ice and at times has been rewarded by reuniting with the Sedin twins for goals like THESE:

“Reunited and it feels SO good…”!

The Sedins may not be quite a point-per-game pace but they certainly are looking more and more like the dependable players that they were before the 2013-14 NHL season. In true twin fashion, they are tied for the team lead in points each with 66, the only difference being that HENRIK has one more goal and DANIEL has one more assist.

Goal-tending was also an area that team WilLindEnning addressed this summer with the signing of veteran goalie, Ryan Miller. Many questioned whether he would fit with the Canucks and what this would mean for Eddie Lack. Millsy had a resilient season picking up 28 wins that included 6 shutouts prior to an injury in late February. He’s a massive reason as to why the Canucks have been able to maintain their playoff position all season long. Since the injury to Miller, Eddie Lack has stepped up to fill in and raised his level of play and helped the Canucks stay in the playoff hunt.

Does this mean Lack is the number one now or that Millsy gets back the net come playoff time? To be honest, I do not care WHO is in the net, just that they play to the best of their abilities when they are in the crease. Do we need another goal-tender controversy in Vancouver? Say it with me, NO! We do not need to create another controversy among the goalies and this city. It would simply be incredible if down this stretch and however far this team goes into the playoffs that THIS city would SUPPORT whichever goalie is in the net.

Jim Benning also did the seemingly impossible by locking down Christopher Tanev for five more seasons much to the delight of Canucks fans. Tanev has proven to be an integral part of the defensive core with ever growing potential. He’s often a goalie’s best friend on the blue line making crucial blocks and the odd game-saving goal-line save. It was paramount to get his deal done before season’s end or the free agency frenzy. Well done, Jim, well done.

Most surprising of all this season is that despite a depleted lineup during January and February, the team was still finding ways to be competitive and win games. 74 games down, 8 to go. 15 spots remain to be claimed in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Will the Canucks clinch a spot down the stretch? That remains to be seen, but unlike last season, the odds are not down to a long shot but simply solid play in the games that remain. Are you ready for what these last 8 games will reveal? Regardless of how it ends, it sure has been exhilarating to witness this team find a little bit of its tenacity once more. This team is playoff dreaming once again. Slowly but surely, Trevor Linden has this team turning this city into BO-lievers and despite the odds on paper at the start, anything is possible.

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.

March Madness Activated…

MARCH MADNESS is in full swing around the NHL from intense playoff drives, to playing with jobs on the line for next season, to playing spoiler, there is no shortage of dramatics around the league. Expectations will be met and not met as teams keep battling for divisional positioning all in the hopes of holding onto or grabbing onto a playoff qualifying position. Who will be left standing when all is said and done? Will any teams manage to pull off a last minute upset to steal playoff berths? Who will miss the playoffs in shocking fashion and who makes their playoff comeback? Time will tell who will be left standing when the dust settles before the storm that is the NHL playoffs begins.

As for the Vancouver Canucks, despite an insane injury bug that came calling in early 2015, they are once again playing meaningful games in March.  Meaningful games being played by the Vancouver Canucks in March! That feels good to write…who would have thought after the torpedo that was their 2013-2014 season under Torts, that they could be capable of a quick turnaround?! Or perhaps when the injuries began to pile up between January and February, any hopes that were once sparked have turned into doubts? Or perhaps you were of the cautiously optimistic variety? This season could not be more different from last season despite a massive injury pile up. For much of January and February the Canucks had a myriad of different players being asked to step up game after game due to the ever growing list of injuries. Somehow they found ways to win games despite a depleted lineup giving themselves an opportunity to go on a stretch drive run for March madness and an April tuneup.

March madness indeed! 21 games in March and early April with a near healthy lineup for the first time since the start of the season. Divisional rivals and wildcard holders trying to keep pace with the Canucks or even potentially pass them in the standings. Every game has playoff implications. Every game will dictate where the team stands when all is said and done after 82 games. As they have done all year, they have won games they should, they won games that were considered impossible and lost games they presumably should have won. Through 11 games in March, they have amassed a 7-3-1 record (15 points) to help them maintain second place in the tight Pacific Division. These final ten games will set the tone for the post-season should the Canucks earn a playoff berth.

One thing is certain, that no matter what situation the Canucks find themselves in after the final buzzer on April 11th, this team is slowly beginning to turn THIS city into BO-lievers once more! 72 games down, 10 games to go. Playoffs looming and anticipation of what could be grows with each victory. March Madness will soon be followed by the April rush that sets up the ever exciting race for Stanley.

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.

February Round up

I don’t know about you but I for one am glad that February is OVER. The injury bug came calling slowly and then all at once to the Canucks as the month progressed taking nine regulars out of the lineup. The February schedule quickly became increasingly daunting with each new injury but somehow, with a mixed lineup of veterans and rookies, the Canucks found ways to not only compete but ways to win. Yes, I am aware that there was that forgettable game against Buffalo but all that proves is that you cannot take ANY opponent for granted no matter their current standings.

The odds seemed stacked against them most nights with a depleted blue line, multiple forwards missing, and one veteran goalie on the mend. Yep, I am definitely glad that February is over BUT I am also incredibly amazed by the things that DID go right despite the injury infestation.

An overall 8-6-0 record for February 2015 does not leap off the page as stellar but it certainly is much better than many expected with the Canucks checkered lineup. February brought out some of the best compete level from the Vancouver Canucks since their days before Torts. Zack Kassian re-emerged into the lineup finally playing to the potential that all Canucks fans knew he possessed, even earning playing time with the Sedins. Bo Horvat and Ronalds Kenins developed an instant chemistry as they solidified the Canucks so-called “4th line”. The Sedins found their play-making prowess piling up points throughout the month further proving that last season was an anomaly. Players, young and old were finding ways to contribute on a nightly basis.

Their 8 wins came against: Winnipeg, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston x2, Minnesota, the NY Rangers and the NY Islanders. Those eight wins were hard fought wins earned from an undeniable compete level regardless of who was in the lineup THAT night. The win against Winnipeg had an undeniable playoff atmosphere with both teams battling end to end in an overtime thriller. In the game against Pittsburgh, for the second time THIS season, the Canucks shutout the Penguins all-star roster.

Games against the Chicago Blackhawks NEVER disappoint, EVER. Yes, the roster has undergone many changes over the years but the in-game intensity always remains. A battle end to end from start to finish ending with a perfectly aligned SEDINERY overtime game winning goal.

Beating the Minnesota Wild has proven to be a difficult task of late and this season has been no different. The first two meetings ended win the favour of Minnesota. Vancouver had their work cut out for them in their final meeting of the season. The Wild kept it close but Eddie Lack stood tall to the test as the Canucks held on for a regulation win.

Two games against Boston in 11 days was most definitely NOT an easy task by any means but this team was more than ready for the challenge. In the first of two meetings, Shawn Matthias broke out with his first career hat trick on home ice. In their second meeting, this time in Boston, the Canucks had to find a way to win without Ryan Miller. The Bruins scored a quick goal but Eddie Lack shut the door the rest of the way making 40 stops while an on fire Zack Kassian scored the game winner for a regulation WIN.

Since Coach AV left Vancouver beating the New York Rangers had become an impossible task. The Canucks came back from THREE deficits in this game to earn a 5-4 shootout victory. Henrik Sedin was a man on a mission scoring twice including the game tying goal that lead to over time with just two minutes left in regulation. Every time the Canucks were down a goal or two, they never panicked, they simply kept pushing back and forcing themselves to be noticed. This game was the definition of a character win.

Speaking of New York, the Islanders are on the rise and make each game tough on their opponents.The Canucks played a complete 60 minutes despite losing Ryan Miller to injury early in the middle frame. Eddie Lack came into the game preserving the shutout with 27 saves of his own.

Yes, the final game in February against Buffalo that once again proved teams cannot overlook ANY opponent despite their respective standings. February may not have been stellar but was certainly not their worst. They had many stand out moments that very well may help them down the stretch. The Canucks will have keep that fight they found in February and bring it with them down the stretch as they continue to fight for a playoff berth.

The final countdown begins! March 2nd is the NHL trade deadline and so begins MARCH MADNESS, the NHL addition. Trades, trades and more trades will happen as teams look to find the missing puzzle piece that will lead them to playoff glory. Will your team make a trade deadline dash or will they stand pat with their current rosters? The dust will settle, moves will be made or not made and the race to the playoffs will begin!

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.