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Afternoon delight

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
For the second time in the last three seasons, the Vancouver Canucks are Northwest Division champions.

Considering just how far the Canucks have come since that revolting eight-game winless streak in January, I was tempted to end that last sentence with about three hundred and eighty seven exclamation points, but decided instead to keep the celebrations minimal.

Why hide the excitement that I’m feeling, the joy that every Vancouver fan around the globe is bubbling with? Why not relay the enthusiasm we are all feeling right now with a written hurrah?

Because in the big scheme of things the division crown doesn’t mean much, it’s the cup at the end of the yellow brick road that matters and the Canucks look like a team ready to make a major run at it.

In the final regular season game of the 2008-09 season, Vancouver was once again lights out on defence helping Roberto Luongo collect his career-high and franchise record ninth shutout of the season in a 1-0 overtime win over the Colorado Avalanche.

Henrik Sedin was the game’s lone scorer, he banked a passing attempt off the skate of Scott Hannan and through the legs of netminder Peter Budaj just 40 seconds into overtime leading the Canucks to one last win and a 45-27-10 record overall.

Vancouver finishes the regular season with 100 points, reaching the century mark for just the fourth time in franchise history and third time in the last five years.

Early on against the Avalanche it looked as though the Canucks would clinch the division title in the first period as they outshot the home team 19-8 and were it not for the goaltending of Budaj, the score would have been tilted heavily in Vancouver’s favour.

A sloppy second period and a cautious final 20 minutes later, the Canucks still had nothing to show for 32 shots on goal, luckily Hank collided with luck to end the regular season on a three-game winning streak, something the team really wanted to do.

“It seems like everytime we lost in overtime or a shootout everyone sees it as a loss so it was nice to end with a few victories here to go into the playoffs on the right note,” said Henrik, who finishes the season with 82 points in 82 games, the same as brother Daniel as he picked up an assist on the game-winner.

This win was far from impressive for the Canucks considering it was first against the worst in the division, but Luongo is pleased with the way his team, which had allowed 14 goals in three games to start the month, was able to come together on the back end so quickly.

“We’ve played real well defensively the last few games, we just have to make sure we keep doing that and hopefully going into the playoffs we know what we’ve got to do as far as our systems go and get a couple of goals and get some wins,” said Lui, adding that he and the boys are befuddled with their monumental march to a division win.

“Who woulda thunk it? In January when we were in the midst of that losing streak, I don’t know how many points behind Calgary, like 12 I think. "[our hopes] seemed pretty faint at the time, but all in all we stuck with it and worked hard to get where we are and it’s nice to get rewarded like that.”

All that’s left to be determined for the Canucks now is who their opponent will be in the first round, which will begin at GM Place either next Wednesday or Thursday.

Vancouver could face the Columbus Blue Jackets or St. Louis Blues, depending on how the remaining games play out.

Luongo and the Canucks aren’t playing favourites when it comes to who they want to match up against.

“It doesn’t matter," said Luongo, who had 22 saves overall.

"We’re going to get a good team either way and to get where we want to go we’re going to have to go through some really tough teams, so we’re just excited to have home ice advantage here and we’re looking forward to getting started.”

The Canucks aren’t even playing the waiting game, according to Ryan Johnson. There’s no more scoreboard watching for him as he believes the team is best served by fixating on what they can control.

“This is a team that all year has been more focused on ourselves and getting better ourselves everyday we come to the rink,” said Johnson.

“We know we’ve got some things to fix still and to fine tune before we get going, but regardless of who we play, our success is going to come when we play our game and we’ve developed a formula for success and we know for us to start making the right steps, we have to play that every day.”

If the Canucks follow Johnson’s words of wisdom and can continue their stellar play into the post-season, you better believe I’ll start using celebratory exclamation marks – they’ll be a the end of every sentence.

3 – Northwest Division titles for the Canucks in the last five seasons

3 Vancouver's spot in the Western Conference heading into the post-season

82 – Points each for Daniel and Henrik Sedin

– Shutouts for Roberto Luongo, a new career-high and franchise record

2 Consecutive shutouts for Luongo

7 Periods since Lui has allowed a goal

The Canucks hit Peter Budaj with 19 shots in the first period and 33 overall.

This was the second straight game Vancouver scored only once, but the team was making an effort to lock things up defensively so there's no need to fret.

Vancouver's fourth line was its best overall; the Sedins were off a step until connecting on the chance game-winner.

Vancouver outshot Colorado 33-22.

The Canucks were worried about their defensive coverage following 14 goals against in three games to open April and it's safe to say the issue has been addressed.

Vancouver allowed only one goal in its last three contests, a combination of defensive focus and the masterful play of Roberto Luongo are to thank for that.

Both teams were 0-for-2 on the power play in a highly disciplined game.

The Canucks have been hot on the power play so there's no cause for concern there, and the team has now killed off 29 of its last 31 penalties as they are now excelling in an area they fumbled with not long ago.
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