Vancouver Canucks try to stay loose in battling for playoff position

Wednesday, 02.04.2008 / 7:40 PM / Features
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - Stay loose, think positively, focus on the next game, get some help. And just win, baby.

That was the recipe Wednesday for the Vancouver Canucks to advance to the NHL playoffs the morning after digesting a devastating 4-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

"You can't expect guys to be jumping out of their boots here because we need help," coach Alain Vigneault said when asked about the mood in the dressing room after the Cancks no longer controlled their playoff destiny.

"That being said, we need to help ourselves."

Helping themselves means winning at home Thursday against the Edmonton Oilers and Saturday in the regular-season finale against the Calgary Flames.

Otherwise they're out of the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

The Canucks can still overtake the Flames, who are seventh in the Western Conference, four points ahead of Vancouver.

Calgary would have to lose in regulation time to both the Wild in Minnesota on Thursday and the Canucks here Saturday.

The Nashville Predators, one point ahead in eighth place, might be closer but they play teams out of playoff contention - St. Louis at home on Thursday and Chicago on the road on Friday.

The best Vancouver can finish is 41-31-10 and should that be good enough to tie either Calgary or Nashville, the Canucks hold the tiebreaker with a better head-to-head records with the Flames (5-2) and Predators (3-1).

The West is so wacky, it's conceivable Vancouver could be tied with Calgary late in Saturday's game and have to lift goalie Roberto Luongo for a sixth attacker to prevent the Flames from at least getting a playoff-clinching point for forcing overtime or a shootout.

But right now, the Canucks aren't playing like a playoff team.

They've lost five of six down the stretch against divisional opponents. While the Predators overcame a 3-0 deficit Tuesday against St. Louis, the Canucks gagged on a 2-0 lead against the Avalanche.

It was the second time in two weeks Vancouver surrendered a two-goal advantage and lost, something that rarely happened last season.

"We had a good meeting this morning with our guys and we're trying to keep this positive," Vigneault said of the games that drifted away like a breeze catching spring blossoms on Vancouver's boulevard trees.

"Lately we've had our share of misfortunes in that area and there's nothing we can do about the last five or six games."

That shouldn't make Canuck shooters squeeze their sticks a little harder, said rugged winger Jeff Cowan who's still looking for his first goal of the season.

"It's hard to be loose but you've got to be loose," Cowan said.

"We understand there's two games left. Nothing in the past means anything right now."

One key to winning will be Luongo, who was yanked in a 6-3 loss to the Avalanche on March 26 and lifted again Friday in a 4-0 setback against Minnesota.

He gave up four goals while making 16 saves Tuesday night.

"If we stand any chance of winning (Thursday) and playing on Saturday for a playoff position, Roberto needs to be what he's always been to us," Vigneault said. "He needs to be our best player."

Does Luongo need to be better?

"I think so," the workaholic netminder said after taking shots from four other Canucks at an optional practice at a suburban rink.

"We all do. At this point of the year you want to be at your best."

But Luongo's in a different position from a year ago when he led Vancouver to the Northwest Division title, third seed in the West and a playoff series win over the Dallas Stars before losing in five games to eventual Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks.

"I haven't changed my style, I just try to play goal and stop the puck," said Luongo who racked up frequent flyer miles to be with his wife Gina for the recent birth of their daughter after what the goalie described as a difficult pregnancy.

"Things happen over the course of the season and you don't always feel the same way. In the end you've got to play through those things and make sure you give your best."

The Canucks have also been dealing with a depleted blue-line corps and centre Brendan Morrison went down with a knee injury shortly after returning from wrist surgery.

Big winger Taylor Pyatt suffered a mild concussion Tuesday when hammered into the boards by Colorado's Jeff Finger and is listed as day-to-day.

Even though the Oilers were eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday by the Flames, the Canucks expect another difficult, physical game from them Thursday.

"They fought real hard to get into the playoffs themselves," Cowan said. "They're a young team, an enthusiastic team and they're going to be ready."