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|VAN||0||1||2||(0 - 0)||3|
While the St. Louis Blues remain in a struggle for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference, the Vancouver Canucks appear to have removed themselves from that discussion.
Instead, the red-hot Canucks are chasing home-ice advantage in the first round, a pursuit they'll hope to continue with an 11th straight home victory Thursday night against the Blues.
A few weeks ago, Vancouver was one of the teams in a wild West race that included nearly half the conference battling for one of the last few postseason berths.
But as St. Louis has risen up in that pack, the Canucks (37-23-9) have climbed out of it, going 15-3-1 since the beginning of February to move into the conference's top five. They're 10-0-0 at GM Place during that stretch, setting the franchise record for longest home winning streak with Tuesday night's 4-2 win over Dallas.
Vancouver is 6-1-1 in March with all six wins coming by two goals.
"That's the difference from now to back in January when it seemed like we were just holding on trying to survive," defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "Now we continue to play our game and continue to make plays. We're looking to get that insurance goal rather than sitting back."
In addition to outstanding play from captain Roberto Luongo, who has allowed two or fewer goals in 12 of his last 14 starts, the Canucks have gotten a boost from Ryan Kesler, who had a goal and an assist against the Stars.
The center has at least a point in eight of his last nine games, and he leads the team with 23 points since the start of last month.
The team's impressive stretch has the Canucks within range of Calgary for the Northwest Division lead and close to Chicago for fourth place.
"You do glance at the standings once in a while and realize we're getting close to teams ahead of us, so we've just got to keep plugging away," Luongo said.
The Blues (32-29-9) would be happy with any playoff spot, a scenario that is now realistic thanks to the club's 13-5-5 stretch since Jan. 31.
They squandered a chance to gain ground on one of the teams they are pursuing in Tuesday night's 2-1 shootout loss at Edmonton, but still earned a point behind 33 saves from Chris Mason and a goal from David Backes, who has six and four assists in his last seven games.
Mason is 14-6-5 with a 1.99 goals-against average in his last 25 appearances.
"I asked the guys after the game where we were on Jan. 1 and what did the picture look like for us this year in terms of pursuing a Stanley Cup, and the picture didn't look too good," Blues coach Andy Murray said. "But we have scratched and clawed and battled our way back into this picture. We're going one game at a time."
The Blues have dropped four of five to the Canucks, who were without Luongo when they lost 6-4 at home to St. Louis on Jan. 9. Luongo has won four straight and eight of 10 against the Blues.