Seeing as how there will be plenty of critical eyes on the Canucks between now and the end of the regular season it seemed appropriate on Saturday afternoon, as the team held their final practice ahead of Sunday's showdown with the Buffalo Sabres (5 pm PT, Sportsnet Pacific), that there was a packed lower bowl of fans at Rogers Arena watching the team being put through their paces.
For those who may have missed it, Friday's practice session featured the respective returns of Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler to the mix. Both players were back at it again on Saturday although there was a scary incident involving Kesler during the session as he left the ice immediately after scoring on a drill looking like he may have re-aggravated his knee injury.
The Canucks and their fans were able to breathe a sigh of relief, though, as Kesler returned to the ice not long after the incident.
While Kesler's status for the game against the Sabres won't be known until game day, Daniel Sedin was pronounced fit to return by head coach John Tortorella.
Torts also announced that Eddie Lack (surprise, surprise) will get his 13th consecutive start. He will go up against Sabres' rookie Nathan Lieuwen, who has just two career games of NHL experience and only one previous career start.
One player the Canucks will definitely not have available on Sunday is forward Alex Burrows, who suffered a left hand injury against the Predators.
Burrows missed practice for the second consecutive day and Torts would not get into any specifics regarding the injury to his first line forward except to say he will not dress against the Sabres.
"I haven't really gotten into too much conversation about it but he's day-to-day," said Torts. "He's not playing tomorrow."
Burrows has already missed 32 total games this season due to foot and jaw injuries, respectively.
The Canucks will have several games to keep an eye on Saturday before they get their own opportunity to gain some more ground on Sunday but they got some bad news by the late afternoon with the Stars defeating the Senators to pull further away from the Canucks.
The other games the Canucks will be focused on Saturday include the Winnipeg Jets hosting the Carolina Hurricanes (puck drop at 4 pm PT) and the Phoenix Coyotes, who currently occupy the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, hosting the Boston Bruins (puck drop at 6 pm PT).
The best case scenario for the Canucks would see them finish the night still five points out of a playoff position but with Phoenix holding just one game in hand on Vancouver.
The worst case scenario for Vancouver by the end of Saturday would see them fall to 11th in the Western Conference and seven points out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
As bleak as the situation may seem, the Canucks are still staying positive about their playoff aspirations.
"We're definitely not counting ourselves out," said ex-Sabre Zack Kassian. "We have a group in here that's not going to give up. We're taking it a game at a time."
The opposing view
Making the playoffs has been out of the question for the Sabres for quite some time as they are the only team in the league right now that has been officially eliminated from post-season contention.
In fact, they're only a couple of losses away from officially clinching the worst record in the NHL. They managed to delay the inevitable by picking up a 3-1 win in Edmonton on Monday – a victory that snapped a seven-game losing streak.
The most astounding part of the Sabres' win on Thursday was the fact they managed to score three goals. During their seven-game losing streak, they were held to two-or-fewer goals in all of those outings and were also blanked twice.
Buffalo is by far the lowest scoring team in the NHL averaging just 1.86 goals per game. The Canucks, who began play on Saturday as the second-lowest scoring team in the league, are averaging 2.32 goals per game this season.
As bad as the Sabres have been this season, the Canucks know full well they can't just show up expecting two points to be handed to them on a silver platter.
"We just need the points whoever we're playing,” said Chris Higgins. "That’s the bottom line.
"We don't care who we're playing. We don't care what their situation is. It's all about us."
The Canucks shutout the Sabres 3-0 back on October 17. Chris Higgins, Brad Richardson and Ryan Stanton had the goals for Vancouver that night while now ex-Canuck Roberto Luongo turned aside 25 saves on the victory.
"I haven't gotten a goal since then but it would be nice to chip in offensively again," said Ryan Stanton reminiscing about the last clash with the Sabres when he notched his first NHL career goal. "It was definitely a night I'll always remember."
The Sabres have been shutout nine times this season.