IN WITH A WIN
Figuring potential playoff scenarios at this time of year is about as easy as sticking a mosquito with a pin.
The math just doesn't break down so easy, what with games-in-hand and head-to-head records and all.
One thing is certain, if the Canucks can win tonight against the Avalanche, they're guaranteed a playoff berth and Roberto Luongo
shrugs a six-year monkey of his back.
"It's right there for us and it's going to be an exciting time for me," said Luongo. "Hopefully we can get it done tonight."
The MVP candidate has yet to see the post-season in his 410-game NHL career. He's backstopped Canada twice at the Olympics, and donned the maple leaf in a few other international tournies, but hasn't tasted Stanley Cup action.
Lui admits it'll feel good, but there's more on the plate right now than simply making the cut.
"I think our focus has changed in the last month or so. We realize we have a chance to win our division and Minnesota is winning every game right now, so we have to do the same thing. We have to keep pushing and try to win the division."
The Wild currently lead the division with 97 points after back-to-back wins over LA and St. Louis, though they've played two more games than the Canucks.
"Minneosta has been playing unreal," said Matt Cooke. "But we can't really worry about them. We have two games in hand, and as long as we take care of our business, we're going to be where we want to be. If we win our games, we have nothing to worry about."
One could easily argue that Minny has the better hand. Vancouver has the more difficult schedule with three games left against the desperate Avalanche and another against the Flames.
The Wild have two games left against Calgary and one versus Colorado.
The team that can come away with the better record against their divisional brethren will likely win the Northwest crown.
The Avalanche have beaten the Canucks three times this season, and are playing their best hockey of the season as they try to close the gap between themselves and the final playoff spot currently held by the Flames.
"All the sudden it's now or never and [the Avalanche] need to make the playoffs," said Cooke. "They feel they have a group there that can and they've been more determined to get the job done."
"They're chasing for eighth and they're a desperate hockey club."
Mattias Ohlund can thank Willie Mitchell for keeping a spot warm on trainer's bench.
Just as Mitchell is set to return to the line-up after missing the past five games with a groin strain, Ohlund is going to step out.
The Swedish horse injured his elbow during Wednesday's 2-0 win over the Predators when his elbow pad slid up as he fell to the ice.
"It was in the second period and it was pretty simple: I just fell down on the ice," said Ohlund, who currently leads the team in ice time averaging just under 25 minutes per game. "I got a little cut on my elbow that can't be closed yet, it needs to be open for a few days to heal from the inside. It's not a big deal, but it's something we need to look after."
"They could sew it up and I could probably play, but there's a risk of infection and that wouldn't be good so we're just taking it slow and making sure we do the right thing."
Mitchell skated in his first full practice Saturday and says he's ready to go.
"It's going to be good, really good," he said. "It's been a little while so it will be nice to get back in and get my legs. I have no choice to get my legs early with Ohly out too."
Mitchell missed two games with a groin injury back in January and had to sit out another four when he tried to come back to soon. Despite the history, he says he won't hold back.
"You've got to just jump right in. On the first shift you've got to play the way you want to play, either it's good or it isn't good. You can't sit there and tiptoe around the ice and watch what you're doing." Sami Salo
skated with the team for the first time Saturday since tweaking his groin last week against the Red Wings. He's eyeing Tuesday's game in Denver as a possible return date.
As big a cog as Salo is on the Canucks' blue line, there's little concern in the dressing room if he has to sit out a fourth straight game.
"We've got guys that are capable of stepping up," said Kevin Bieksa
"That's what we brought [Brent] Sopel in here for - in case something like this happened. And Rory Fitzpatrick is obviously capable of playing minutes. So we've got the guys who can back him up."
"We always want to have those guys in the line-up. When they're out we feel like we miss Sami's big shot obviously, and Mattias is probably our best defenceman, so we miss those guys for sure, but we've got guys who can step up and fill those spots."
The Canucks are just one win shy of matching a franchise record for most wins in a single season. The mark, 46 wins, was set back in the 1992-93 season, and the Canucks still have eight regular season games remaining heading into Sunday's tilt with the Avs.
With their 2-0 win Wednesday over the Nashville Predators, the Canucks matched last season's mark of 25 wins at GM Place.
With four home games remaining this season, the Canucks have a chance to break an all-time home wins record. The previous record of 27 was set back in 1992-93, when the Canucks played out of the Pacific Coliseum.