By Jeff Paterson
It's the latest installment of the 'biggest game of the year' on Wednesday when the Canucks roll into Minnesota to answer the call of the Wild. It's also an opportunity for the Canucks to play their best hockey - something they haven't been able to do in five games this season against the Wild.
With just one win in five tries (1-3-1) against Minnesota so far this season and only one point to show from their first three visits there (0-2-1), the Canucks are well aware of the fact there is plenty of room for improvement in this Northwest Division match-up. And the one area the Canucks need instant improvement starting on Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center is production from their 'prime time players.'
This is the time of year when your best players have to be your best players and in the first five meetings of the year between the Canucks and Wild, Minnesota has had a clear edge in that department.
Brian Rolston (4+4=8), Marian Gaborik (2+0=2 in only two games), Pavol Demitra (2+3=5) and Pierre Marc Bouchard (0+3=3) have all been instrumental in the Wild's success against Vancouver.
Over on the Canucks side of things, it's a much different story where the team's top four point producers this season - Daniel Sedin
, Henrik Sedin
, Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison - have yet to find the back of the net. Oh sure, that group has sprinkled in a few assists along the way, but the Canucks need those guys to lead the charge offensively and that means scoring some goals.
(This probably tells you all you need to know about the way the season series has gone so far - the Wild's Branko Radivojevic has six goals all season and four have come against Vancouver while the Canucks top guns have none against Minnesota).
But here's where things are looking up for the Canucks best players as they prepare for Wednesday's showdown. In the team's four wins since the All-Star break, the quartet the Canucks are counting on has combined for 11 goals and 14 assists (Daniel 4+3, Naslund 3+4, Henrik 1+5 and Morrison 3+2). In the club's two most recent victories in Edmonton and at home to Atlanta, that group has accounted for seven of the eight goals the team has scored.
So based on recent performances, it would seem like the Canucks best players are having an impact at a time when they're needed most and that has to continue on Wednesday. However, by digging themselves the hole they have, the Canucks have to sweep their three remaining games (and all in regulation time) against Minnesota to take the season series. That's important to note because the way the race is going in the Northwest Division, it's not out of the realm of possibilities that tie-breakers will be needed to determine the final playoff seedings.
It's also important that the Canucks show the Wild they mean business because with the winner of the Northwest earning the third seed in the conference, it's not out of the question that the Canucks and Wild could meet in the 3rd vs 6th first round playoff match-up. And it's games like this one that could have a huge impact on who'll finish third and who'll be left to fight for sixth.
It's never easy when the Canucks face the Wild and that's certainly been true in their five meetings so far this season. The playoffs are still two months away, but Wednesday's game at the Xcel Energy Center will be about as close to a playoff feel as the Canucks will have in the regular season. What a perfect opportunity for the Canucks top players to accept this challenge and lead their hockey team to victory.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org