The Vancouver Canucks have been here before. For the fifth straight season, the enter the Stanley Cup Playoffs as Northwest Division champions.
Granted, they didn't cruise to a division crown like we've seen in past years. But the fact they're the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference after everything they've endured this season speaks volumes about the grit, character and, most of all, talent that still exists in Vancouver.
Vancouver has endured -- and survived -- a circus-type atmosphere surrounding its goaltenders. Cory Schneider was anointed No. 1 during the offseason, which had everyone in the hockey universe simply waiting for Roberto Luongo to be traded.
Including -- if not especially -- Luongo.
But due to Luongo's massive contract -- a $5.3 million salary-cap hit each season through 2021-22 -- Canucks general manager Mike Gillis was unable to make a deal, despite trying extensively during the offseason and at the NHL Trade Deadline.
Luongo's status didn't seem to affect his play though. Or the play of his teammates, for that matter.
The 34-year-old appeared in 19 games for the Canucks this season, posting a 9-5-3 record, a 2.32 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. His played helped Vancouver keep pace with the Minnesota Wild for first place in the Northwest until a late-season hot streak tipped the scales in Vancouver's favor.
Ryan Kesler, one of the top two-way forwards in the sport, returned to the lineup in the second week of April and is primed to be a major contributor this spring.
It's for reasons such as these that the Canucks have what it takes to win that elusive Stanley Cup championship. Teams often have to fight through adversity in order to come together when it matters most and find a way to win.
The defense also improved. Jason Garrison didn't put up the numbers some may have expected when he signed that six-year deal to play in his native province this past summer, but he has been solid in his own end (he finished with a plus-19 rating) and is one-half of a solid pairing alongside veteran Dan Hamhuis.
We don't know yet who will be between the pipes when the playoffs begin, but the Canucks will play with confidence, whether it's Luongo or Schneider, and rightfully so. Each is a No. 1 goaltender at the NHL level and either can steal a game and/or series.
The Canucks have been through a lot this season. Will there be more adversity to overcome? Perhaps. But if coach Alain Vigneault's club continues to charge ahead, this will be the year Vancouver finally hoists the Stanley Cup.
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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