Canucks, Schneider look to make it seven straight wins tonight in Edmonton
Vancouver clinging to two-point lead over Minnesota in race for Northwest Division title
Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider makes a glove save against the Colorado Avalanche during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday March 28, 2013.
Photograph by: Darryl Dyck, THE CANADIAN PRESS
EDMONTON -- With less than a month remaining in the regular season, the Vancouver Canucks find themselves in somewhat unfamiliar territory.
They are actually in a fight for the NHL's Northwest Division title.
In recent years, the race has been over by now, but the Minnesota Wild are making things interesting for the Canucks, who tonight against the Edmonton Oilers will try to stretch their winning streak to a season-best seven games.
"It seems like for the first time since I have been here it's actually a race to the title and the third seed or second or whatever it ends up being," winger Jannik Hansen said after this morning's game-day skate at Rexall Place.
The Canucks enter tonight's game two points up on the Wild in the Northwest Division standings. The Dallas Stars did the Canucks a favour on Friday night by beating the Wild 5-3. Minnesota, which has a game in hand on the Canucks, plays host to the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night.
"I think it's healthy competition," Hansen said of the Wild breathing down their necks. "Maybe we have had it a little too easy in the past and especially last year when we coasted into the playoffs and expected to just turn it on. This year, we've had to fight for pretty much every point we've gotten and it can only mean we are a little more battle-ready and tested."
While the Canucks have opened up something of a cushion above the playoff bar in the Western Conference, the Oilers are fighting to climb above it. They enter tonight's game tied for 12th spot in the West but are just three points out of the top eight.
The Oilers have won two straight games and will try tonight to win three in a row for the first time all season.
"It's kind of now or never," said Edmonton defenceman Ryan Whitney. "We have to put some wins together. If we want to make the playoffs you've kind of got to win tonight. It's pretty simple, it's kind of a must-win for us."
To do that, the Oilers must solve Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider, who will make his seventh straight start. Schneider's brilliant play has been one of the big reasons for Vancouver's recent success. He has allowed just six goals over the Canucks' last six games and has a pair of shutouts in that span.
"We talked about it this morning and he is playing so well that everything in their zone has to be on the net," Whitney said of Schneider. "They do a good job of taking a lot of passing lanes away so we want to put things at his feet and hopefully make him work and force him to be really good tonight."
The teams have not met since Feb. 4, when defenceman Chris Tanev scored in overtime to give the Canucks a 3-2 win at Rexall Place. The Oilers won 3-2 in a shootout Jan. 20 at Rogers Arena in their only other meeting this season.
"There has never been a question about their talent up front," Schneider said of the Oilers. "Every time we have seen them they have been dangerous and effective and they have been putting up points the last few games and we are going to have to be really diligent to make sure we don't give them too much speed because when they wind up and come through the neutral zone they are really hard to handle."
Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who has been nursing a troublesome groin much of the season, did not skate this morning. But coach Alain Vigneault said Bieksa will play tonight.
The Canucks could make one lineup change. Winger Zack Kassian, who has missed the last five games with a bad back, has been cleared to play and Vigneault said he will be a game-time decision.
The Oilers will go with the same lineup that beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-4 on Thursday night. Devan Dubnyk will start in goal.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Oilers: Centre Sam Gagner leads the Oilers with 13 goals and 31 points and had three points in Thursday night's win over Columbus.
Canucks: Winger Daniel Sedin snapped a four-game points drought with a goal and an assist in Thursday night's 4-1 win over Colorado. The Canucks need Daniel to kick-start their power play, which is currently ranked 29th in the NHL.
The Oilers are missing defenceman Andy Sutton (knee) and centre Eric Belanger (groin).
The Canucks are without centre Ryan Kesler (foot), wingers David Booth (ankle) and Dale Weise (shoulder) and defenceman Keith Ballard (foot). Winger Zack Kassian (back) is a game-time decision.
ICE CHIPS: The Canucks will overnight in Edmonton and travel Sunday to San Jose, where they meet the Sharks on Monday night. . .The Oilers open a three-game homestand for the Canucks next Thursday night, the day after the NHL trading deadline. . .Oiler centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has five assists in his last three games.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun