IT TAKES TWO
For a team that has had little problem racking up wins since Christmas, two more should be a cinch. That's how many it will take for the Canucks to clinch the Northwest Division title for the second time in three seasons and achieve one their biggest goals for the year.
More than that, finishing tops in the Division and a likely 3rd seed in the conference will guarantee one very tangible benefit come playoff time: home ice advantage. The Canucks have the opportunity to earn both the division and home ice with wins at home Tuesday against the Kings and Thursday versus the Avalanche.
"We want to win the Division, no question about it," said Trevor Linden. "And home ice is a luxury we'll take. It's a goal we set for ourselves at the start of the year, first making the playoffs and then winning the division. We've got a shot at that and it would be great to start here at home."
Captain Markus Naslund agrees, but stresses that even if they clinch in their next two, his team is looking to sweep their last four games.
"I think you want to play the last games feeling good about yourself" said Naslund. "Plus we obviously want to win as many games as possible and win the division. I don't think even if we win a couple that there will be a lot of guys resting and I think we're all excited about finishing up these last four games and then getting into the playoffs."
Naslund evidently has a good read on his coach, as Alain Vigneault underlined his team won't have much chance to rest before the post season.
"I'm not resting anybody" said Vigneault. "We're going to play our group and we're going to stay focused on playing well and playing hard"The Canucks currently sit three points ahead of Minnesota for top spot in the Northwest with a game in hand. Minny's next game is Tuesday when they're home to the Oilers.BACK ON THE BLUELINE
The Canucks blueline should be bolstered by the return of Sami Salo
to the line-up Tuesday. Salo and his 100mph point shot should be good to go when the Canucks take on the Kings.
Salo missed the team's recent two game road trip after re-injuring his groin against the Avalanche last week.
"Tomorrow we'll just... I don't want to say ease' him in there, but it will be more five-on-five and powerplay time and depending on how he feels we'll make that call," said Alain Vigneault. "He's been skating for the past couple of days, he feels strong, and he's said he feels fine so I don't see any reason why we should hold him back."
His return couldn't come at a better time: Salo's big point shot has been an integral part of the Canucks powerplay, which has struggled in his absence.
"Obviously his big shot back there helps out" said fellow D-man Willie Mitchell. "It's going to add a little bit more depth and we need everybody in the line up getting ready for the post-season. Getting him back and Ohlie, who is not too far away, will be great."
Mattias Ohlund's return does indeed appear to be imminent. Ohlund will likely be back for Thursday's game against the Avalanche.
And although he's eager to get get back into the line-up, Ohlund says he's trying his best to make sure his nagging elbow injury has time to heal properly.
"You don't want to do something stupid and risk not playing when the playoffs start," said Ohlund. "I don't think it will be a big issue and we'll do what's right. Hopefully I'll get three games in here before the playoffs."
Ohlund has missed four straight games with a cut on his elbow. RICK RYPIEN OR OUT?
Things still appear to be up in the air for Rick Rypien. The gritty centre has also been sidelined with a groin injury since December and Alain Vigneault has said Rypien will have to decide this week whether or not he thinks he can play through the pain.
"I told him he's got to make the call if can he go or if he can't go," said Vigneault. "Can Rypien handle the pain and help us? If he can, he's going to play. If he can't, we're going to get him operated on and move on. It's that simple."
Rypien isn't ready to admit defeat quite yet, however. He's been practicing with the Canucks and says he is eager to get back to playing.
"I've worked pretty hard so far and I haven't really done anything yet," Rypien said after practice Monday. "I definitely don't want to think about not playing right now so I'm going to do everything I can to have a chance to play again."
It's been a rough year for Rypien. He's sat out since December 8th, and has only played two games with the big club this season. Before that he'd played 14 games with the Manitoba Moose, registering six points (3-3-6) and 35 penalty minutes.