Canucks in 'a good situation' facing final three games of season

 

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks’ Henrik Sedin (33) scores on Winnipeg Jets’ goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (31) as Jets’ Jacob Trouba (8) and Mark Stuart (5) defend during first period NHL action in Winnipeg on Saturday, April 4, 2015.
 

Vancouver Canucks’ Henrik Sedin (33) scores on Winnipeg Jets’ goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (31) as Jets’ Jacob Trouba (8) and Mark Stuart (5) defend during first period NHL action in Winnipeg on Saturday, April 4, 2015.

Photograph by: JOHN WOODS, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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VANCOUVER - Nobody said this was actually going to be easy, right?

After the Vancouver Canucks failed spectacularly last season and missed the National Hockey League playoffs for the first time in six years, no one figured they were going to amble to a 100-point season and secure their Stanley Cup playoff berth with several games to spare.

Ask anyone in the Canuck organization last September if they would take three home games in the final week of the regular season and need three or four points to make the playoffs, every player, coach and manager would have said “please” and “thank you” before you finished the proposition.

Well, almost every player.

“You’d like to be in with three games left instead of having to win,” veteran winger Chris Higgins said Saturday after the Canucks lost 5-4 to the desperate Winnipeg Jets. “I don’t think you’d want to put yourself in that position. But we’re confident about making the playoffs. We just have to look at one game, look at the next one we play. Just win against L.A. and go from there.”

The Canucks open their final homestand tonight against the Los Angeles Kings, the defending Cup champions who have been trying for weeks to run down Vancouver and the Calgary Flames in the Pacific Division.

In the race for second place and a home game to open the playoffs, the Canucks’ 95 points lead the Flames by two and the Kings by three. Calgary and L.A. won games on Saturday, and the Kings have a game in-hand on the Canucks and Flames.

The Kings visit the Flames on Thursday. The bottom of three teams drops into the wild card race with the Jets, who are tied with the Kings at 92 points but trail on the tiebreaker.

While the Canucks have played most of this season as underdogs, surpassing what skeptics expected and having their best performances on the road where they are insulated from external pressure, there is immense pressure on them at home not to blow this.

“I think it is a little easier sometimes on the road,” Canuck coach Willie Desjardins said after Saturday’s loss. “But we have a chance at home and that’s all you can ask for. So we’ve got to make the most of it. We have an older group; they know that we need to do it and we need to find some wins.”

Higgins said: “We can use that pressure to our advantage. The crowd in Winnipeg was a great crowd and (the Jets) came out hard. They picked up the energy of the crowd and that’s something we need to do. We need to find a way to have a better start and hopefully we can use our crowd to do that.

“We’re pretty level-headed. Sometimes looking at it from the outside, it looks a lot more hectic than it does on the bench. Just take a couple of deep breaths and compose yourself. We know what we need to do.”

Of course, the Canucks were telling themselves the same thing four years ago, when they had two chances to win one game for the Stanley Cup, but lost both to the Boston Bruins.

It’s no longer about the opportunity. That glow has passed. Now it’s about doing it.

After facing the brawny Kings, whom they finally beat 4-1 in Los Angeles 16 days ago, the Canucks close their regular season with games at Rogers Arena Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes and Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers — yes, the worst two teams in the Western Conference.

“We’ve been battling all year and have stayed in the moment all year,” Canuck defenceman Kevin Bieksa said. “We haven’t looked too far ahead. We’re in a good situation now. We’ve played some good hockey overall, and we’ll come home and keep playing good hockey. We’re a pretty good team at not getting too up or two down. We wanted to win this game (against the Jets), but we’ve got three games left and we’ll learn from this one. We probably gave them too much.”

There was a playoff atmosphere in Winnipeg, but Saturday’s matinee had neither playoff defending nor playoff goaltending.

With their aggressive, physical style, the Jets never looked secure with the lead, but they were only team that had one.

The Canucks were down 2-0 in the first 51Ž2 minutes and trailed for all by 37 seconds the rest of the way. The line of Henrik and Daniel Sedin alongside Alex Burrows was outstanding, producing all the Vancouver goals.

But goalie Eddie Lack, who allowed a clunker to Mark Scheifele late in the second period, wasn’t good enough and neither was the defensive coverage in front of him. The Canucks lost for the first time this season when scoring four or more goals. They’re now 27-1 at that threshold.

Vancouver has lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time since January, and is 2-3-1 in its last six games. The Canucks have surrendered 21 goals during that span.

The key statistic on Saturday was 2-2 — how the Canucks finished a daunting trip that began with impressive back-to-back wins against the formidable St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators. Going .500 didn’t feel nearly as good coming home as it sounded the previous Sunday when the team was flying to St. Louis.

“Regardless of whether you’re in or not (with a week to go), you want to be going in playing your best hockey,” Bieksa said. “We played four really good teams, including a couple of desperate teams that needed wins. So 2-2 is not bad. Obviously, our standards are a little higher but we’ll take that and take care of business on home ice.

“I think we would have taken this for sure in training camp,” Burrows said of having three chances at home to win and get in. “We’re still right there. It will be a great chance (to qualify), a great atmosphere and I’m looking forward to it.”

So are the Kings.

NEXT GAME: Kings at Canucks

RECENT FORM

The Canucks lost 5-4 Saturday to the Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver’s second straight defeat after opening a difficult four-game road trip with back-to-back wins in St. Louis and Nashville. The Canucks are 2-3-1 in their last six games and have allowed at least four goals in four of them. The Kings’ home win on Saturday, 3-1 against the Colorado Avalanche, was their second straight. Los Angeles is 5-2 since losing to the Canucks on March 21.

HEAD TO HEAD

Vancouver’s 4-1 win at the Staples Centre 16 days ago was its first against Los Angeles this season. The Canucks were 0-3 against the Kings previously. L.A. has won twice at Rogers Arena this year by a combined score of 7-2. In their recent win, the Canucks outshot the Kings 42-26 and matched them physically. Radim Vrbata scored the winner during a major penalty to Tyler Toffoli for dangerously boarding Alex Burrows.

WHO’S HOT, NOT

Canucks RW Burrows has four goals in four games. D Dan Hamhuis has five assists in seven games and been a minus-player only once. For the Kings, RW Marian Gaborik and C Jeff Carter each has four points the last two games, while C Anze Kopitar has 11 points in nine games. ... Vancouver C Linden Vey has one point in 14 games, while C Bo Horvat is pointless in eight games and minus-eight. Kings D Drew Doughty is pointless in six of seven games.

WHO’S HURT

G Ryan Miller has started practising but remains out since tearing knee ligaments on Feb. 22. C Brad Richardson (ankle, undisclosed) and RW Zack Kassian (back) remain out indefinitely. The Kings are missing D Andrej Sekera (knee) and LW Tanner Pearson (ankle). D Slava Voynov is suspended indefinitely while facing domestic abuse charges.

WHAT IT MEANS

In a span of four days, the Canucks’ seven-point lead over the Kings for second place in the Pacific Division playoff race shrunk to three, so Los Angeles can close within a point with a regulation win tonight. And the Kings have a game in-hand. The Calgary Flames, one point behind the Canucks with equal games played, separate the teams so L.A. currently holds the final wild card spot, tied with Winnipeg but ahead on the tiebreaker.

imacintyre@vancouversun.com

 
 
 
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Vancouver Canucks’ Henrik Sedin (33) scores on Winnipeg Jets’ goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (31) as Jets’ Jacob Trouba (8) and Mark Stuart (5) defend during first period NHL action in Winnipeg on Saturday, April 4, 2015.
 

Vancouver Canucks’ Henrik Sedin (33) scores on Winnipeg Jets’ goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (31) as Jets’ Jacob Trouba (8) and Mark Stuart (5) defend during first period NHL action in Winnipeg on Saturday, April 4, 2015.

Photograph by: JOHN WOODS, THE CANADIAN PRESS

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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