The Vancouver Canucks are enjoying the greatest season in franchise history. They've already clinched their first regular-season title since entering the NHL in 1970, and they'll have home-ice advantage for as far as they go in their quest for their first Stanley Cup.
But the Canucks also are just 10 days away from making history.
The Canucks enter the penultimate weekend of the season having scored the League's most non-shootout goals (249) while allowing the fewest (172). Finishing first in scoring goals and preventing them is something no team has done since the Montreal Canadiens in 1976-77 and again in 1977-78 -- the only two times a team has led categories since expansion in 1967.
Dating all the way back to the institution of the 70-game schedule in 1949-50, only three franchises ever have had the best offense and stingiest defense. Montreal has done it eight times -- including all five seasons from 1955-60, when the Canadiens won five consecutive Stanley Cups. Chicago was tops in both categories in 1966-67, the final season before expansion, but lost its first playoff series that season. Detroit led in both categories in 1951-52 on the way to the Stanley Cup, and again in 1952-53, when the Wings were beaten in the semifinals.
Starts and finishes -- A big reason for the Canucks' large differential is their ability to dominate opponents in the first and third periods. Vancouver has scored a League-high 97 goals in the third period, six more than second-place Boston. Defensively, the Canucks have allowed a League-low 40 goals in the first period; Boston and the New York Rangers are next with 48.
The Canucks also bumped their stinginess to new heights Thursday. Not only did they not allow Los Angeles to score in the third period, they didn't even allow the Kings a shot on goal -- the first time this season a team has been held without a shot in a period.
Big difference -- Because they lead in goals for and goals against, the Canucks also are tops in goal differential -- but their plus-77 total, while well ahead of runner-up Boston's plus-54, is light years behind those legendary late-70s Canadiens teams
The 1976-77 Habs, regarded by many as the greatest team ever, not only scored the most goals and allowed the fewest, but had a goal differential of plus-216 -- the only team ever to break plus-200. The 1977-78 Canadiens were "only" plus-176, third on the all-time list behind the 1970-71 Boston Bruins, who were plus-192, but were beaten by Montreal in the opening round of the playoffs.
The last team to finish with a three-figure goal differential was the 2005-06 Ottawa Senators, who were plus-106 but lost to Buffalo in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Sorry to see it go -- The Canucks were sorry to see the calendar turn to April -- they had the best March in franchise history.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
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The Canucks finished March by beating the Kings 3-1 on Thursday, giving them a 13-2-0 record, the most wins they've ever had in March -- their previous best was an 11-2-2 mark in 2006-07. In fact, it's the best month in franchise history -- the Canucks never had won 13 games in any month.
Perry good -- Anaheim's Corey Perry has come out of nowhere to pass Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos for the League lead in goals -- he has 46 after getting two in the Ducks' 4-2 win at Calgary on Wednesday. Most remarkable is the fact that he's done much of his best work in the third period.
Perry's empty-netter in Calgary was the 21st time he's scored in the third period this season, the most in the NHL -- San Jose's Patrick Marleau is next with 17. Add in a pair of overtime goals (to win back-to-back games in March), and Perry has scored exactly half of his goals after the second period; his total of 23 is three more than Marleau.
Perry is trying to become just the second player in Anaheim history to lead the NHL in goals -- teammate Teemu Selanne had 52 to share the lead with Peter Bondra in 1997-98 and was tops with 48 the next season. He's also only the third player since 2000 to score more than 40 goals while taking more than 100 penalty minutes; it hasn't happened since Todd Bertuzzi, then with Vancouver, had 46 goals and 144 penalty minutes in 2002-03.
Sad to see it go -- Like the Canucks, Perry was sorry to see March turn into April -- he finished March with 15 goals, becoming the fifth NHL player since January 1997 to score 15 goals in a single month. Three of the first four -- Vancouver's Pavel Bure and Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr in 2001, and Colorado's Joe Sakic in 2000 -- also did it in March; Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows scored 15 times in January 2010. The last NHL player to score more than 15 was Mario Lemieux, who had 17 for Pittsburgh in December 1996.
Caught short -- The Tampa Bay Lightning are headed to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007. If they hope to make any kind of a run, they'll have to be a lot more careful on the power play.
Tampa's power play is a productive sixth in the NHL at 20.6 percent and the Lightning are tied with Detroit for second in the League with 66 man-advantage goals. But the Lightning have negated a lot of that good work by allowing a League-high 16 shorthanded goals, three more than any other team.
And while the Lightning's penalty-killers are 11th in the NHL in both percentage (83.3) and power-play goals allowed (47), they've generated almost nothing offensively -- they're last in the NHL with just 1 shorthanded goal. The minus-15 differential in shorthanded goals almost completely negates their plus-19 margin on the power play.
We don't have any excuses tonight. Excuses are for losers. We've played with five defensemen before and it didn't affect us. We just had a bad second period and it cost us the game. We have to look in the mirror and blame ourselves.
— Bruins coach Claude Julien on his team's play with the loss of defenseman Johnny Boychuk