VANCOUVER - Suddenly, the Vancouver Canucks seem primed for the playoffs. What a difference a game makes.
Criticized for indifferent play of late, the Canucks played their best game in ages Monday night against the NHL-leading Chicago Blackhawks and were full value for a 3-1 win at Rogers Arena.
"I thought our effort level was great, our execution was great, our defensive play was great, physicality, it was the whole package," said goalie Cory Schneider who was once again, well, great. "If we play that way, and we know we can, we can beat a lot of teams in this league."
Almost lost in the win over their hated Western Conference rivals was the fact that it clinched Vancouver's fifth straight Northwest Division title.
"It's always nice to beat the best team in the NHL, but our second goal each year after making the playoffs is to clinch the division title and I think it speaks to the success this team has had the past few years," Schneider said. "We'll enjoy it for about 10 minutes and worry about the Ducks coming to town (on Thursday)."
Daniel Sedin, who scored a goal and added an assist to move into second place on the Canucks' all-time points list, didn't disagree when it was suggested Monday's game might have been the Canucks' most complete effort of the season.
"Yeah, it's up there, I think," he said. "From the first shift we were focused on getting pucks deep and we were on the forecheck and forechecking the right way, which is a key for our team. I thought we did a good job of that."
It was the assist that Daniel drew on Vancouver's second goal by Zack Kassian that moved him past Markus Naslund and into second place on the Canucks' all-time scoring list. He only trails his brother Henrik. It probably should not come as a shock that both players moved past Naslund in their 905th NHL game.
Daniel said he was surprised by the standing ovation he received from the crowd.
"Second place? I don't know how big that is. But it feels nice and it means a lot for both me and Henrik."
The win, the Canucks' eighth straight on home ice, improved their record to 26-13-7 and with 59 points they cannot be caught by the Minnesota Wild.
With just two regular-season games remaining -- Thursday night at home against Anaheim and Saturday night in Edmonton -- the Canucks will enter next week's playoffs as the No. 3 seed.
Ryan Kesler, who played wing on an effective line Monday night with Derek Roy and Chris Higgins, kind of wishes the playoffs could start tomorrow.
"Now that we have the division clinched, it would be nice," Kesler said. "But we have a couple more test-runs I guess you could say before that and we're going to play the same way."
Daniel feathered a pass from behind the net to Kassian to give the Canucks a 2-0 lead midway through the second period. Kassian had gained position in front of the Chicago net and pushed Blackhawks' defenceman Duncan Keith out of the way before taking the pass and sliding the puck past goalie Corey Crawford. It was the type of goal that Kassian needs to score in the NHL.
"If you look at (Alex) Burrows, he gets a lot of goals right in tight there and going to the dirty areas," Kassian said. "It was a great pass and it was nice to finally get one again."
Daniel made it 3-0 at 19:16 of second during four-on-four play. Henrik Sedin banked a pass off the side boards and found his brother all alone behind the Chicago defence. Daniel beat Crawford with a nice deke to his backhand for his 12th goal of the season.
"It was a good bank pass by Hank and I was able to get a breakaway," Daniel said. "It was nice to get that goal."
The two-handed slash he received to the back of the leg from Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith after he scored was not so nice. Keith did not receive a penalty and Daniel did not want to talk about it after the game, "I scored right," Daniel said. "I didn't really notice it. I haven't really seen it. I really don't want to talk about it."
The Canucks led 1-0 after a strong first period and were unlucky not to be up by a wider margin. Crawford made a number of tough saves before the Canucks scored on a power play at the 14:28 mark.
A Jason Garrison shot from just inside the blue line tipped off the stick of Chicago defenceman Johhny Oduya and the skate of Jannik Hansen before getting by Crawford. The goal was Hansen's 10th of the season and his first ever NHL power-play marker.
Daniel Carcillo ended Schneider's shutout bid at 11:50 of the third, when he was the recipient of a fortuitous bounce off the skate of referee Tom Kowal and scored on a backhand from close range.
Schneider stopped 24 of 25 shots for his 17th win of the season.
ICE CHIPS: Winger Dale Weise was a healthy scratch for the Canucks. Tom Sestito took his place in the lineup. . .Vancouver defenceman Dan Hamhuis picked up an assist on Hansen's goal and now has points in eight of his last 10 games. . .
Single-game first-round playoff tickets go on sale Friday. Tickets start at $123.
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