With two points separating the top four teams in the Northwest, the race to win the division is up for grabs and no doubt it'll be a photo finish.
The Vancouver Canucks have been questioned all season: Who’s going to score the goals? Why can’t they score enough goals? Why are they so inconsistent? How are they going to overcome the injuries? Will they be able to squeeze into the playoffs?|
And now with nine games to go and very much in the thick of the Northwest Division and Western Conference playoff races, here’s one more query to throw their way:
Through all of the many ups and downs and bumps and bruises of this 2007-08 hockey season, the Canucks have done exactly what they had to do. They’ve managed to stay with the pack and have put themselves in position to make the most out of these remaining nine games that jumped off the page when the schedule was released last summer.
With three games left against Calgary and two each against Minnesota, Colorado and Edmonton, it’s all right there in front of the Canucks. It’s not often in professional sports that this many teams are packed together this tightly this late in a season. It’s always said that the National Hockey League regular season is a marathon not a sprint. And that’s true. But since no one has managed to pull away from the pack, the division title will be determined by these final two and a half weeks and we’re all about to find out who’s got the strongest kick to the finish.
Why not the Vancouver Canucks?
While still not guaranteed a playoff spot (although Monday’s win over Phoenix coupled with Tuesday’s loss by Nashville certainly helped the cause), the Canucks are in a position now to get exactly what they deserve from these final nine games. Play well and defending the division title they won a year ago is very much a possibility. Play poorly, though, and they’ll likely be in a fight to the finish just to qualify for the big dance.
But it’s all up to them. They aren’t in need of help or favours from anybody else at this point. They simply have to help themselves to as many of the 18 points that are still up for grabs. Of the four teams still in the hunt for the Northwest crown, the Canucks are the only one with five home games remaining on their schedule. They also happen to be on a three game win streak at GM Place and have gone 6-0-3 in their last nine on home ice.
The issue there is that four of those five remaining home games are lumped together to finish out the season which means four of their next five will be played on the road as they visit each of their Northwest foes starting Thursday in Edmonton.
The meat of the remaining schedule comes in a three games in four night stretch next week starting in Calgary Tuesday, continuing in Colorado on Wednesday and finishing in Minnesota next Friday. Three pressure-packed games in four nights in hostile buildings with a bunch of travel scattered into the mix. That’s bound to test any team’s mettle.
But if the Canucks can keep their heads above water in the next five games, then they’ll close out the season with those four games at home and they should still be within striking distance of the division title.
The Canucks and Colorado can certainly use injuries to key people as an explanation (not an excuse) for some of the struggles they’ve been through at times this season, but both Calgary and Minnesota have been relatively healthy and yet those teams haven’t managed to distance themselves from the rest of the division.
So here they all stand – in a virtual tie -- ready to start the final run. Hold on because this is going to be some kind of a wild ride. And while the outcome of this race is about to unfold, this much is known for sure: somebody has to win the Northwest Division.
Why not the Vancouver Canucks?