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Jeff Paterson: Canucks clinch

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks

To put a little perspective on the kind of season the Vancouver Canucks are having, consider that if you were to erase their first 20 games from the record, they’d still be just a single point out of a playoff spot in the National Hockey League’s Western Conference.

Yes, if you struck those first 20 games of the season in which the Canucks were an unspectacular 10-7-3 from the books, they’d still have as many wins as two of the teams above the playoff bar in the West and more than every team currently on the outside looking in.

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Jeff Paterson is an analyst on Team 1040 Radio and is a columnist with the Georgia Straight newspaper.

Follow him on Twitter @patersonjeff

And that’s just in in the West. If you broaden your horizons, the Canucks record without those first 20 games (37-9-6) would still place them above 15 - a full half - of the 30 teams in the overall NHL standings and would have them sitting comfortably in seventh spot in the Eastern Conference.

But they did play those first 20 games. And with the 23 points they earned early in the season combined with the 80 they have gained since hitting their stride in the past 52 outings - their most recent two points coming in Wednesday’s 4-2 come from behind win over the Colorado Avalanche - the Canucks find themselves on a seven game win streak and Northwest Division champions for the third straight season and the fourth time in five years.

Without question the single biggest reason they were able to lay claim to the division crown just one day past the middle of March was the fact that the Canucks have been ruthless in games against their divisional opponents.

The win over the Avs pushed the Canucks’ record in Northwest games this season to 16-2-2 and the club’s combined record against Colorado, Calgary and Edmonton is now 13-0-2 on the season.

Anyone who follows the NHL knows that the Northwest hasn’t exactly been hockey’s best division this season, but on January 1st Colorado was only six back of the Canucks (they’re now an astounding 43 behind) and both Minnesota and Calgary have made playoff pushes since Christmas so it’s not like teams around the Canucks haven’t shown flashes at times.

But it isn’t just their play in the Northwest Division that has the Canucks closing in on the Western Conference crown. The Canucks have been equally effective in games against Pacific Division foes and as of this writing all five teams in the Pacific are currently holding down playoff spots. After opening the season, 0-3-1 against Pacific opponents, the Canucks have gone 12-1-1 against San Jose, Los Angeles, Dallas, Anaheim and Phoenix.

Simply put, if you beat the teams you face the most, the math takes care of itself and with 28 of 47 wins against teams in the Northwest and Pacific divisions, well it can be no surprise the Canucks are where they are in the standings.

The surprise comes with the fact the club has been able to weather the storm of injuries to its defense as well as it has. After the division-clinching win over Colorado, the Canucks are now 17-6 in 23 games since the team announced Alex Edler needed back surgery and 10-4 since Kevin Bieksa joined Edler on the shelf with a broken bone in his foot.

In a season of impressive runs (the club went 17-1-2, a franchise best for a 20-game segment from November 24th through January 8th), the Canucks are at it again. They are currently in the midst of their fourth win streak of six games or more this season and have a chance on Friday against Phoenix to match the season-high for consecutive victories if they can find a way to beat the Coyotes. All told, the Canucks have rattled off 18 wins in their past 24 games yet another reason they have been able to put considerable distance between themselves and the teams chasing them.

Wednesday’s win over Colorado gave the Canucks an 11 point cushion over second-place Detroit in the NHL’s Western Conference. That 11-point gap is the same as the distance from second place in the conference all the way down to ninth place. So if one is to believe that Detroit will still reel in the Canucks, they have to believe it’s possible for Calgary to catch the Red Wings.

Statistically, it’s been a memorable season for the Vancouver Canucks. Of that, there can be no doubt or debate. But 10 games from now, the numbers won’t mean a whole lot.

The Canucks will simply be one of 16 teams in the race to get the 16 wins that matter most. And that’s when the real accomplishments can be measured.

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