VANCOUVER — “Any day you wake up and you're still alive is a good day," Vancouver Canucks captain Henrik Sedin observed this morning.
He was both awake and alive as he said it, and so is his National Hockey League team. Just. The Canucks, critically behind in the playoff race for weeks but refusing to concede, are six points out with four games to go and will be eliminated tonight if they lose outright to the Anaheim Ducks (7 p.m., Sportsnet Pacific, Team 1040).
Yes, the same Ducks who thumped the Canucks 5-1 at Rogers Arena nine days ago and humiliated them 9-1 in Southern California on Jan. 16 — the week that precipitated the unravelling of Vancouver's season.
The same Ducks who won 18 out of 19 games in the middle of the season and are trying desperately to hang on to first place in the Pacific Division, which likely carries a first-round playoff matchup against the Minnesota Wild instead of a brutal battle with the 2012 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
"It's like a pick your poison thing to me," Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said as his team skated here after a 4-2 loss Sunday in Edmonton. "Minnesota has beaten all the big teams, too. They're playing great right now. And L.A. is built for the playoffs. No matter who you're playing, it's going to be a tough grind and winning the Stanley Cup is all about getting through the tough grind."
Getting through the Canucks has been not so tough for Anaheim, which is 4-0 against Vancouver this season. But the Canucks just knocked off the Kings 2-1 on Saturday to exorcise one demon, and would love to slay another tonight. Almost certainly it would be only a moral victory, but it's still a win.
"Each day is a new day and we try to be the best we can," Canucks coach John Tortorella said. "Of course you're looking at (the standings) now, but you can't control that. That's where our players have been really good — just taking each day at a time. I think that's where they've handled themselves really well."
Canucks winger Alex Burrows will be on the fourth line tonight as Tortorella rewards Jannik Hansen with another chance to play on the second line beside Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins.
Rookie Eddie Lack makes his 19th straight start in goal for the Canucks, and could be opposed in the Ducks' crease by golden prospect John Gibson, who may get his first NHL start with Jonas Hiller struggling and Frederik Andersen injured.
But the Anaheim player at the centre of attention will be Teemu Selanne, who has only three regular-season games left in a 21-year Hall-of-Fame career that has seen him score 684 goals. Only nine of them have come this season for the remarkable 43-year-old.
Selanne admitted his career would have been different had it not started in Canada with the Winnipeg Jets in 1992, and said he chose to sit out the first half of the Ducks' back-to-back in Edmonton in order to play one more time in Vancouver.
"All these western Canadian cities, I've played the most games in my career," Selanne said. "This is my favourite city, anyway. So I wanted to play one more.
"Obviously, the toughest part (of my career) has been to be away from home and see the kids, different stuff with them. That's the only thing because other than that hockey has been the biggest thing in my life."
• PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Canucks: Daniel and Henrik Sedin appear to be getting back some of their magic Sedinery near the end of their ruined season.
Ducks: Teemu Selanne plays his final hockey game in Canada in the city where he said he absorbed the hardest hit in his career: Mike Peca's atom bomb in 1995.
Canucks: C Mike Santorelli (shoulder), D Chris Tanev (hand), D Andrew Alberts (concussion).
Ducks: G Frederik Andersen (concussion), D Cam Fowler (knee), D Mark Fistric (lower body).
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