By Jeff Paterson
Given the fact they looked like they were on the fast track to nowhere at Christmas, it remains somewhat hard to comprehend what the Canucks have done - and how they've done it - over the past two months.
But Tuesday's win in Anaheim actually moved the Canucks closer to first place in the overall league standings than they are to the two teams trying to catch them for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.
Yes, the Canucks with their 74 points are nearer to first place in both the Western Conference (Nashville 83 points) and the NHL (Buffalo 85 points) than Edmonton and Colorado (62 points apiece) are to Vancouver.
Now, clinching a playoff spot has to remain priority number one for the Canucks and everything else flows from there.
But it just goes to show that while no one is realistically expecting the Canucks to reel in the Predators or the Sabres, it's hard to imagine the Oilers and Avalanche making up significant ground in their quest for a playoff spot.
So until it happens, it's premature to suggest that the Canucks are free and clear as far as the post-season is concerned, but with each passing game it's certainly looking more and more like their focus should be on the teams in front of them rather than the teams behind them in the standings.
The Canucks are 18-3-3 in their last 24 games. Think about that for a second. That's more wins in the 24 games since Christmas than in the 36 games before the break. That's more wins than Philadelphia has all season. That's playing a ridiculous .813 hockey (39 of a possible 48 points) during the stretch. You win that many games, you're bound to make up ground on just about everybody (although Minnesota and Calgary continue to hang tough).
But there are only five teams in the league now ahead of the Canucks in the overall standings and only five teams have more wins than the 35 the Canucks have this season. And with 22 games to go and based on the way the team is finding ways to succeed, things like the franchise records for wins in a season (46) and points in a season (104) are all of a sudden not only very much within reach but quite likely to fall.
No one in their right mind would have thought that possible after those three straight losses prior to the Christmas break.
And with their ninth overtime victory of the season on Tuesday, the Canucks are now within two of the club record set back in 2003-04. Daniel Sedin
's third OT winner of the season ties him with Sami Salo
for the team lead in that department. Those two have been the most potent overtime producers for the Canucks this season with Salo having a hand in more than half of the team's extra-time victories (2+3=5) while Daniel has scored three OT goals and set up one of Salo's winners.
In all, 12 different Canucks have picked up an overtime point so far this season with Matt Cooke, Brendan Morrison and Lukas Krajicek all ending games with a goal. Cooke has 1+2=3 in overtime this season making him the second most productive forward behind Daniel while Morrison has 1+1=2 and the trio of Markus Naslund, Henrik Sedin
and Ryan Kesler
have all chipped in with a pair of helpers. Mattias Ohlund, Kevin Bieksa
, Yannick Tremblay and Jan Bulis have all set up one overtime winner this season. Interestingly enough, the Canucks take a little while to find their killer instinct when games go beyond regulation time.
Six of their nine overtime winners have come after the midway mark of the five-minute sudden death session with two of the goals coming in the final minute (Salo @ 4:59 of OT in St. Louis on October 20th and Salo @ 4:20 in Minnesota last week). Only once this year have they scored in the first minute of OT (Daniel Sedin
on October 6th in Columbus). And six of the team's nine overtime wins have come on the road, so apparently there's no home ice advantage in OT.
Whether it's overtime or regulation, home or away, it doesn't matter how you crunch the numbers these days, they all add up to something remarkable for the Canucks.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at email@example.com