The Vancouver Canucks (48-17-9), fresh off tying franchise records for both points in a season (105), and road wins (23), after their 2-1 victory over the Red Wings on Wednesday night, will visit the Atlanta Thrashers (31-30-12) at Philips arena tonight.
With the Northwest division wrapped up and the first seed in the Western Conference all but assured, the Canucks have shifted their focus internally, trying to hone their game in preparation for the second season, which starts in just under three weeks.
“We know where we are in terms of our power play and penalty kill and wins, we know all of that,” said Associate Coach Rick Bowness.
“But we also know that the opponent we play in the first round is going to be a very hungry, battled hardened team, because that 8th place probably won’t be decided until that final Saturday and Sunday.”
“It’s more important for us to focus on the process and the things we have to do to stay battle hard and ready ourselves so we’ll be ready for that first opponent.”
Tanner Glass and Mikael Samuelsson are still day-to-day, so the lineup that faced the Red Wings will remain the same for tonight’s game, with Luongo getting the start in net, before taking Sunday’s game against the Blue Jackets off.
“Down the stretch here, we have a few games left, and obviously win as many as we can and do whatever we can along the way to win a few,” said Luongo.
“But at the end of the day its more about ourselves and making sure were playing our game and doing the right things on the ice so that we’re ready to play come playoff time.”
The Thrashers, sitting in 11th spot in the Eastern Conference, seven points out of a playoff spot, have are all but eliminated from post season play, despite the fact they’ve accumulated a bevy of talented young forwards, including Vancouver’s own Andrew Ladd and Evander Kane. Both are having career seasons, with Ladd leading the Thrashers in scoring (27-27-54) and Kane setting career highs in both goals and assists (18-22-40).
The Thrashers are the last Eastern Conference team the Canucks will face this season. Surprisingly, the Canucks 10-5-2 record against the East ranks in the middle of Western Conference teams. Of the Western teams, only the Edmonton Oilers have a losing record against the East this season.
After the game, the Canucks will fly to Columbus to prepare for a 2pm PST matchup against the Blue Jackets on Sunday.
NEW FOURTH LINE
The new look fourth line, featuring bruising forwards Victor Oreskovich and Alexandre Bolduc looked good against the Red Wings last game, bringing a physical presence and strong commitment to defense.
“They’re both big buys and we wanted to get faster and bigger and they provide that,” said Associate Coach Rick Bowness. “So it’s up to them to show us that they can help us in the playoffs.”
Alexandre Bolduc returned to the Canucks for the first time in two months after separating his shoulder against the Capitals.
“It was a good test to start off against Detroit like that, get back in the swing of things,” said Bolduc. "It was a fast game and a lot of fun.”
“I’ve just got to stick around here, help the team however I can and I’m looking forward to the challenge of playing every game and helping the team win.”
Victor Oreskovich will play his 3rd game in a row for the Canucks after being called up from Manitoba last week.
“I thought we played really well, had some good scoring chances,” said Oreskovich. “Alex (Bolduc) is a really good player, strong on draws and reliable defensively, I like what our line brought and I thought.”
“Every game is an audition for me, I know I have to come and play intense every night. Every game is exciting for me and I’m glad to be here.”