3 Most Important Games Left on Vancouver Canucks' Schedule
After consecutive drubbings of the two Alberta teams, and with an 8-2-0 record over their last 10 games, the Vancouver Canucks are back where they wanted to be, atop the Northwest Division.
Now, with just 10 games left in the season, it is all about battling for playoff positioning and defending the Northwest Division title to guarantee at least the third seed.
The Canucks have a four-point lead over the Minnesota Wild for the division lead, although the Wild do have a game in hand.
With that in mind, here are the three most important games on the Canucks' schedule as the season winds down.
Tuesday, Apr. 16 at St. Louis Blues
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If the playoffs started today, the Canucks and Blues would be facing off in the first round.
The Blues have won four games in a row and have moved up the standings to sixth in the Western Conference, four points behind the Canucks who are in third place.
The season series is split one game apiece, with the Blues winning in overtime and the Canucks winning in regulation. At the trade deadline, both teams bolstered their rosters, with the Blues adding Jay Bouwmeester and the Canucks adding Derek Roy.
This will be an important game for the Blues because every point matters for them to stay in the playoffs. And for both teams, a game against a potential first-round foe should make for an intense match.
Saturday, Apr. 20 vs. Detroit Red Wings
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The Red Wings have owned the season series, lighting up the Canucks for a total of 13 goals in a pair of lopsided 8-3 and 5-2 victories.
Detroit is in eighth place in the Western Conference and will want the win to keep in the playoff picture.
Vancouver, on the other hand, is much more comfortable in third place but will need the win to redeem themselves after those embarrassing losses. And, of course, the Canucks could use the points to keep the Wild at bay in the Northwest Division.
Monday, Apr. 22 vs. Chicago Blackhawks
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While they have dominated the rest of the Western Conference, the Hawks haven't had their way with the Canucks. The two teams have played twice so far this season, exchanging shootout victories in February.
As is fitting for the best rivalry in the Western Conference, the games have not been without controversy.
In the first meeting, Dave Bolland was hobbled by an injured ankle due to a slash that the Hawks wanted Jannik Hansen suspended for. Hansen was neither penalized on the ice nor suspended.
In the second meeting, Hansen was suspended for his controversial hit that left Marian Hossa laying motionless on the ice.
They'll meet again for the third and final time in the last week of the regular season. This will be a litmus test for the Canucks, a chance to play against the best in the NHL and see if they are playoff ready or not.
And hopefully we won't see any predatory cheap shots that sideline stars for the playoffs.