Vancouver Canucks Battle for Division Title

Ryan MillarCorrespondent IApril 7, 2009

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MARCH 31:  Head Coach Alain Vigneault of the Vancouver Canucks yells to a player during their NHL game against the Calgary Flames at General Motors Place March 31, 2007 in Vancouver, Canada. Calgary defeated Vancouver 3-2.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Just one week ago, the Vancouver Canucks looked to be well on their way to becoming masters of the Northwest Division and a sleeper long shot heading into the playoffs. 

After a terrible post-Christmas slumpincluding losing nine in a row at home—the team has turned themselves around.

The change of fortune is due in no small part to coach Alain Vigneault's decision to break up his ever-dependable third line, and from the pieces, complete his top two lines.

Since their promotions, Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler have bolstered the production of the top two forward lines.  They've put up some respectable numbers, especially when you consider that they are primarily considered defensive players.

At least they were.

Now that Burrows is approaching the 30-goal mark, while only recently seeing power play time, that perception is changing. His name is even being tossed around for Canada's Olympic Team. A Cinderella story for the undrafted Pincourt, Quebec native.

As for Kesler, his performance on a line alongside Demitra and Sundin has provided an offensive spark for the defensive stalwart.  His increased offensive output won't hurt his chances to be a Selke Trophy candidate.

The Canucks fortunes have risen steadily along with the boosted output. 

The Sedins have been clicking with Burrows and Roberto Luongo has been playing like the elite goaltender that he is.

Canucks fans have been daring to dream big dreams.

And the team itself?  They've stopped challenging for a playoff berth and started challenging for home-ice advantage in the postseason.  They went 20-5-1 in February and March to make up a 13-point deficit on the Division-leading Flames along the way.

However, down the stretch, just when the Canucks were poised to lock up the title with games against the Ducks, the Oilers and the Avalanche, they folded.

Rather than looking down on Calgary, waving points reaped from sure-fire momentum-boosting wins, the Canucks managed just one point, an overtime loss against the Ducks, from those three contests.

There is no point-waving going on.

It's tough to choose which was the worst game.

Edmonton eliminated them from the playoffs last season.  Sweet revenge could have been had, but the Canucks failed to capitalize.

The Avalanche are dead last in the division and iced a team of minor-leaguers.

The Canucks had been picking up steam heading into the post-season but have suddenly started looking vulnerable defensively and in net.

Tonight, though, the Canucks have a chance to turn things back around.


They play their bitter rivals, the Flames, tonight at GM Place. Calgary currently sits two points above them in the standings.  A win brings them level with two games remaining.  A loss, realistically, puts them out of contention for the division title. 

But more worryingly, it puts the momentum and self-belief necessary for a big playoff drive on the backside of a four game losing streak.

For them to right the ship, they'll need their newest top-line players to power them to victory.  Kesler has 14 points in his last 14 games, and Burrows has 10 points in his last 10.  Tonight will be a true test for the whole team, who are also battling some off-ice adversity.

Expect a game with playoff intensity, and if the Canucks win, expect them to take that intensity with them into a post-season full of promise.

If they lose, expect them to limp into the playoffs.


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