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Battle For The Top

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks


After winning five straight, the Canucks look for their season-high sixth in a row. It won't be easy as they face a challenging Oiler team that's coming off a narrow 5-4 shootout loss to the Stars Thursday.

While the Oilers will be playing their second game in two nights, they'll be a focussed squad. They're looking to avenge a 6-2 loss to the Canucks a week ago.

"We want to play well and do what we want to try to do," said Trevor Linden. "They played last night and that can be an advantage. We just want to play well and do a good job defensively, try to put some pressure on their defence."

The teams are deadlocked in the season series 2-2, each with a win on the road and at home.

The last two meetings saw lop-sided results with the winning team scoring four more goals. Don't expect to see the same results this tima around.

"Anytime we play them it's a good game," said Brendan Morrison, who's had four points in the last four games. "I'm sure they're going to want to tighten up defensively and for us as well, we don't want to give them a whole lot. If I was to estimate what was going to happen tonight, I would expect it to be a pretty tight game."

Not only have the Canucks won five straight but they've won six straight at home. Their last loss came to the Oilers Dec. 4th when the Canucks were shutout 4-0.

Edmonton has sagged since. They've won just one of their last five and three of their last 12.

The Oilers have played back-to-back games six times previous and in those meetings, they have won three of the 12 games with only one win on the road.


The Canucks will play each divisional opponent eight times, so the Oilers should be something they're used to by now - kind of like well-worn jeans.

This will be the second time the teams meet in a week and the fifth divisional game in two weeks.

"You play them so much there's no secret to what the teams are going to try, you're prepared for them," says Matt Cooke.

It may be redundant, but with the Canucks sitting in third spot in the Western Conference, every two points taken from a divisional rival is two points towards a higher seed in the post-season.

It's been a fight since the beginning - and at one point a week agao all five teams sat deadlocked for top spot. The Canucks are now five points up on last-place Colorado, who are two spots out of playoff position.

Although a win for Edmonton tonight doesn't mean first place, it means the Canucks have to work that much harder to hold on to their lead.

"It just comes down to who wants it more," said Cooke. "The puck battles along the boards, the one-on-one battles over the ice. It's one of our focuses because we started so poorly in our division that we wanted to get back to winning [divisional] games."


Markus Naslund hasn't scored in 16 games but that hasn't hurt the team, who's our scored their opponent 20-11 on their five-game win streak, averaging 4 goals a game.

"It's surprising it's gone on for this long for a guy that can score goals the way he's capable of but the silver lining in all this is that we're winning some games right now," says Morrison.

Although the Canucks continue to sit 29th in the league for scoring, as long as they're getting wins, there's really no problem.

But Naslund makes no excuses for the scoring drought.

"I don't really have a good theory because if I did, I would have out of this slump."

"There are a lot of different things but obviously I'm not getting shots. I don't find that I have the puck in opportunities to shoot and I'm trying to do all the things that I'm used to doing. But it just doesn't seem to be there for me."

Fans and teammates are supporting him and know that it's just a matter time.

"Everybody knows how much pressure he puts on himself and to be one of the key guys offensively and hopefully he'll be able to relax a little now knowing that we are winning some games," says Morrison.

"It just reinforces don't get caught thinking too much on the ice, just trust your instincts and just relax."

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