NHL Playoff Push: Will the Canucks defy the odds and get in?

NHL Playoff Push: Will the Canucks defy the odds and get in? thumbnail

Can the Vancouver Canucks actually do it?

We’re about to find out.

Incredibly, the team many assumed was not going to be able to play at the pace required to crawl back into a playoff spot from so far out now suddenly finds itself as the hottest team chasing the race. The odds remain long, but now seem more possible than ever.

An intriguing race for the final spots in the Western Conference is the central focus in the final days of the regular season, while the East is all about setting first-round opponents. Here’s how the race looks on both sides heading into action on Tuesday.


If the playoffs started today, these would be our Eastern Conference first-round matchups:

(A1) Panthers vs. (WC2) Capitals

(A2) Maple Leafs vs. (A3) Lightning

(M1) Hurricanes vs. (WC1) Bruins

(M2) Rangers vs. (M3) Penguins

Can the Panthers streak to a Presidents’ Trophy?

There could have been a race for top spot in the Atlantic Division. The Maple Leafs, sitting second, are 8-1-1 in their past 10 but have actually lost ground to the leading Florida Panthers, who have won 10 in a row. And Florida has scored 53 goals in that span — an insane average of 5.3 per game. Not only are they about to lock in first in the Atlantic, but the Panthers are 10 points clear of Carolina too, and likely to secure home-ice advantage through the Eastern Conference.

Now the Panthers will have eyes on the Colorado Avalanche and the Presidents’ Trophy. Florida has seven games left to Colorado’s six, and the Avs have a two-point lead on Florida at the moment (and they’re 9-1-0 in their past 10). Colorado will have the tiebreaker, too (45 regulation wins to 40) so the Panthers would have to pass the Avs outright to claim it. Florida plays the Islanders, Red Wings, Maple Leafs and Lightning this week; the Avs get the Kraken, Oilers and Jets all on the road.

But do you really want the Presidents’ Trophy, or is it something of a curse? The last regular season champion to lift the Stanley Cup in the same year was the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks. Here’s how recent Presidents’ Trophy winners did in the post-season:

As Hurricanes struggle across the finish line, all eyes on Frederik Andersen’s health

Welp, this isn’t the sort of update you want to get on your goalie with the playoffs less than two weeks away.

The Carolina Hurricanes, 5-5-0 in their past 10, are still at risk of slipping out of top spot in the Metro, with just a two-point lead on the Rangers and with one more game played. Without Andersen, the Canes are turning to Antti Raanta to try and get them across the line in first. He has a .912 save percentage on the season with a 13-5-4 record and a positive (2.96) goals saved above average (28th out of 69 goalies).

Raanta is a fine enough backup, but Andersen had been a top goalie in the league this season, with 35 wins, a .922 save percentage, and four shutouts. And while, sure, he will have some playoff ghosts to exorcise, Raanta has just five games of post-season experience in his career.

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Here are the two key moments in Saturday’s game against Colorado when it appears Andersen got hurt. The first clip is where he initially showed discomfort, and the second clip is the play that forced him out of the game moments later.

Will Leafs-Lightning lock in this week?

The most points the Leafs can finish this season with is 116 and the division-leading Panthers are already at 114 with seven games left. There’s almost no chance Toronto will pass Florida. Tampa Bay holds a three-point lead on Boston for third in the Atlantic and both of those teams have seven games remaining. So, there’s still a chance those two could flip, though by end of day Sunday that math could be a lot harder on the Bruins.

Boston will play St. Louis, Pittsburgh and the Rangers this week, then cap it off with a trip to Montreal on Sunday. The Lightning face Detroit, Toronto, Nashville and Florida this week. After Sunday, both teams will have just three games remaining (they’re currently tied in the first tiebreaker). Could the Lightning gain another couple of points on the Bruins this week?

And what do Leafs fans think about that first-round matchup anyway? The Leafs beat the Lightning 6-2 just two weeks ago, but these are still the back-to-back champs.

Getting out of that Atlantic Division bracket is going to be a slog.


If the playoffs started today, these would be our Western Conference first-round matchups:

(C1) Avalanche vs. (WC2) Stars

(C2) Blues vs. (C3) Wild

(P1) Flames vs. (WC1) Predators

(P2) Oilers vs. (P3) Kings

Last gasp for the Vancouver Canucks

If playoff positions were decided by spread sheets, the Canucks would have long ago been out of this and have no place in a playoff push piece.

But this is why they play the games.

Today, the Canucks are the primary team of interest in the Western Conference playoff race, just four points back of the Los Angeles Kings for third place in the Pacific Division and with a game in hand. They’ll still have to leap over Vegas, too, but after a stunning 3-2 loss to New Jersey on home ice Monday night, the Golden Knights are a story for a different reason in this race: they are not resuming control of their destiny after getting a couple more key players back from injury.

Vancouver is an amazing story. While the Canucks were always kind of/sort of hanging around this race, they have been chasing the whole time, most of it with less than a five per cent chance of making it. A couple of things have fallen just right for the Canucks:

• The Kings are just 6-5-2 since the trade deadline and are 2-4-1 in those games against playoff-bound teams.

• The Golden Knights are just 7-5-1 since the trade deadline. They played head-to-head against Vancouver three times in April and picked up three of a possible six points — Vancouver earned five.

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• The Canucks are 8-2-2 since the trade deadline and have now won six games in a row. Their points percentage since March 21 (.750) is sixth-best in the league. They’re peaking at precisely the right moment.

The Canucks are somehow overcoming the terrible start they had and the long odds they were left with to actually have a chance here.

When Bruce Boudreau was hired on Dec. 5, the Canucks were 8-15-2, and had a .360 points percentage that ranked 29th in the league. They were in place to sell off huge pieces of the roster. Ever since, though, the Canucks are 30-13-8 and with a .667 points percentage that ranks tied with Boston for sixth in the league. The only teams with a better points percentage since Dec. 5 than Vancouver? Colorado, Florida, St. Louis, Toronto and Carolina. Pretty good company to keep.

It’s also a reminder of just how hard it is to actually pull off such a comeback, because for as great as the Canucks have been over the past two months, and in the very recent stretch, they still walk into Tuesday with just an 11.6 per cent chance at reaching the post-season, per Money Puck.

After pulling out a 6-2 win over Dallas on Monday, the Canucks are back at it Tuesday hosting the Ottawa Senators, and those will be another huge two points they’ll need to collect. The Canucks will close the week with two road games against Minnesota and Calgary that could either sink them, or raise their spirits heading into the final week of the regular season.

Vancouver’s second-last game of the season next week will come against … the Los Angeles Kings.

Rival Ducks have chance to back Kings into a corner

Speaking of the Kings, a long-time rival has a great chance to put the screws to them this week.

The Anaheim Ducks were one of the more “clippable” outfits this season, with outrageous highlights coming from some of their young players on the regular. Early on, it looked like they could jump ahead of schedule and hang in the playoff race, but that has sagged badly in the second half — since Jan. 1, Anaheim’s .384 points percentage (13-23-7 record) is 27th in the league.

But now they have something to play for again. First, these are the final few games of captain Ryan Getzlaf’s career and the probable future Hall of Famer won’t want to go out with a whimper. Adding some fuel here is the fact the Ducks will play the Kings twice this week — Tuesday and Saturday — where they can really hurt L.A.’s playoff hopes.

The teams have split their first two meetings this season and though the Kings were the far better second-half team, they are in struggle mode right now. And that opportunity to bury a rival should give the Ducks something to play for.

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The advantage Los Angeles should have in the playoff race right now is that its schedule isn’t the most difficult finish. Aside from the two Anaheim games, the Kings will line up against Chicago, Seattle and Vancouver in their last games. They don’t have to go up against anyone already in the playoffs.

So can they catch themselves and do just enough to stay ahead of Vancouver? At least enough to make next week’s matchup with the Canucks meaningless? The rival Ducks will have a lot to say about it.

Are the Central’s top three actually the best grouping in the playoffs?

Which division will be the toughest to play through?

The most popular answer might be the Atlantic Division, where Tampa, Toronto, Florida and Boston are all going to be tough outs and at least one will be gone in Round 1. Those teams have mostly excelled all season, bought into their contender status at the deadline, and aren’t really surprising too much.

But here comes the Central Division, which houses some of the hottest teams in the league right now. And sometimes it’s about how you arrive at the playoffs, and not what 82 games say about you.

Colorado, St. Louis and Minnesota make up the Central’s top three and they are all within the top eight NHL teams by points percentage since Jan. 1 (Florida, Toronto and Boston are also all within the top eight in that span). Narrow that down a little more and since the March 21 trade deadline, Colorado, Minnesota and St. Louis join Florida and Toronto as the top five teams in the league.

In each of their past 10 games (30 totals), the Wild, Blues and Avs have lost just two games in regulation combined.

The Blues and Wild will meet in Round 1, and that will leave one pretty great team that hits the playoffs hot golfing early this spring. The Avs, of course, could win the Presidents’ Trophy and have emerged as the team to beat in 2022. And, though Nashville and Dallas have major concerns in generating offence, both of those Central teams also have a leg up on the two wild-card spots. Is this, actually, the best division in the league?

Count me as a fan of the format that requires teams to play out of their division (with the possible wild-card exception in a cross-over scenario). Rather than hope for great matchups later on, give us some great theatre early and see how it unfolds.

This first round is going to be wild.

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