Best of the Best
By Jeff Paterson
"To be the best, you have to beat the best."
I'm not sure who said it, and frankly, I don't really care. All I know is that the old adage applies in so many situations in sports and it particularly applied to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night.
And that, perhaps more than anything else, was the most-important thing to come out of the 2-1 last minute thriller against Dallas.
Oh sure, the end of the losing streak was good and the fact the Canucks cashed in on a critical power play was good. So too was the fact they kicked off a six-game home stand with a victory. And it was nice of them to score at least one goal from Dallas' side of centre ice.
But above all, it was imperative that the Canucks beat a good team - and the Stars were certainly that having won three straight and seven of their previous eight.
When the puck dropped Monday night, there were seven teams sitting ahead of the Canucks in the Western Conference standings - seven good teams, seven playoff teams (at least for the time being). The Canucks record against those teams heading into their showdown with the Stars was just 2-6-1 and 0-2 on home ice this season.
The flip side of those numbers was the fact the Canucks were 5-1 against the teams beneath them including a pair of home ice wins.
This was a fact not lost on the handful of players canvassed in the dressing room after Monday's morning skate. They knew that while they had played some of the upper-echelon teams tough in the early going, moral victories don't mean much at the end of the night and they certainly don't show up in the standings.
The Canucks looked good on opening night when they beat the Wings 3-1 in Detroit. But since then, the only team on the right side of the playoff bar they'd been able to defeat was the Predators in Nashville on October 21st. Again, they've battled with Minnesota and Colorado and San Jose and even the Stars once before, but had precious little to show for their efforts.
In the ultra-competitive Western Conference ,where the Canucks learned last season that a few squandered points can mean the difference between making the playoffs and going to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup final, the best way to gain ground on the teams ahead of you is to beat them in head to head meetings.
At the same time, if the Canucks truly have designs on making a strong playoff push in the spring, it's these same teams they're chasing now that they'll ultimately have to beat four times in a best of seven series. If you can't beat them a few times in the regular season, it's unlikely - although not impossible - that you'll have what it takes to slay those dragons when the run to the Stanley Cup begins.
The win over Dallas is something the Canucks can build on. It's something they can look to the next time they're in a tight game with time ticking away. It's another reminder of the need to push hard until the final buzzer. And it should serve as a confidence builder for a team still trying to figure out where the goals are going to come from on a nightly basis.
But most of all it shows the Canucks how hard they have to work to beat the good teams - and with the best team in hockey next up on the schedule, that message should still be fresh in their minds when the Ducks come calling on Thursday. It's not going to get any easier for the Canucks and that's why it was so important to show themselves and their opponents that they can get the job done.
Statistics don't always tell the whole story: If someone told you that Henrik Sedin had scored in just one of the Canucks' first 16 games this year and only two of the last 33 games he'd suited up for dating back to last spring, you'd probably wonder what was wrong. Of course, the answer is absolutely nothing. Obviously, the Canucks centre would love to put the puck in the net more often, but no one should be concerned with Henrik's play or production. He scored twice in the Canucks 5-0 win in Chicago on October 25th, leads the team in assists and points (2+15=17), is third in the NHL with those 15 assists and sits in the Top 20 in league scoring. Oh, and he's keeping pretty good company - reigning Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy winner Joe Thornton has 2+16=18 for San Jose so far this season.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org