Russell Lansford/Icon SMI)
One of the main goals of the last Collective Bargaining Agreement in the NHL was to increase parity in the league. Looking at the standings, with four teams within one point of each other chasing the Western Conference’s seventh spot, that ideal seems to be alive and well, which makes the fact that the Vancouver Canucks clinched their fourth straight Northwest Division title that much more amazing.
That could explain, though, why the Canucks’ locker room had a distinct “business as usual” attitude following their 3-2 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche.
“It’s just one step,” Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo told CBSSports.com. “We have lots of goals ahead of us that we want to accomplish. … Tonight was a good start.”
For a team that has become accustomed to playoff disappointments over the last few seasons, though, a good start isn’t something they’re going to be satisfied with.
On one hand, there’s the fact that the Canucks are still looking up at the red-hot St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference.
“We have our sights set on catching St. Louis,” Canucks forward Chris Higgins told CBS Sports.
While catching the Blues for the top slot in the West might be something that would be an added bonus to the Canucks’ season, getting healthy and improving their play is the main concern for Vancouver, which showed signs of the latter over their last few games.
“Every game was low-scoring, the whole trip,” Luongo said in an interview with the Vancouver Sun. “We limited scoring chances even though sometimes we gave up a few more shots, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into lots of scoring chances.”
“We are going to be involved in tight scoring games down the stretch here and into the playoffs and we’re finding ways to win those.”
The fact that the Canucks are finding ways to win games is certainly encouraging, as this is something that they haven’t been able to do this season when they’ve struggled. One big reason why they’ve been able to win the close games recently – including their comeback win on Saturday – has been their patience.
“That’s the way we are,” defenseman Kevin Bieksa told the Vancouver Sun. “We are a veteran team, we have been through a lot, we have been in every type of game and have come back a lot before. So there’s no reason to panic, we can score goals, we know that. Right now, it’s a matter of being patient and not forcing too many things and not going out there with the mentality that we have to score a lot of goals.”
That patience is going to be key heading down the stretch.
When the stakes get higher, the game gets tighter and, when the game gets tighter, goals become harder to score. That’s when patience comes into play and that’s what the Canucks have displayed over their last two games that has made them so successful. That’s what is going to make them successful down the stretch, especially with the absence of Daniel Sedin, who continues to recover after taking an elbow to the head from Duncan Keith.
“You want to win because you have four lines rolling and have got different guys stepping up each night,” Daniel’s brother Henrik told reporters. “That is what we had in the last couple of games.”
It’s that team mentality that is going to keep the Canucks on the winning end of things while Daniel remains on the shelf and it’s that team mentality that Vancouver hopes will deliver them to hockey’s promised land when the season is over.
Northwest Division Notes
The NHL has fined Colorado Avalanche forward Chuck Kobasew $2,500 for charging Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome on Mar. 24. The incident occurred at 6:34 of the first period and Kobasew was assessed a minor penalty at the time. … Minnesota Wild center Matt Cullen could miss the remainder of the Wild’s season with a broken index finger sustained in the Wild’s 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. … Vancouver Canucks’ forward Henrik Sedin told the National Post that he wants the NHL to issue harsher penalties for illegal hits. “I think the only way to get rid of it is to have tougher penalties during the game,” Sedin told NP. “If you give elbows and charging and boarding and all those dangerous plays four minutes in penalties, it’s going to hurt the team. … If you’re hurting the team, if you’re losing games because of an elbow or a charging or boarding, you’re going to stop doing it.”
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