Vancouver has been one of the hottest teams in the League recently, changing the conversation from whether or not the Canucks will make the playoffs to how high in the Western Conference standings they might be able to rise.
Home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs no longer seems farfetched. The Canucks (12-2-0 in their last 14) have drawn within shouting range of the fourth-place Blackhawks and also have at least a mathematical shot at catching the Northwest Division-leading Flames. Roberto Luongo
's return to form from a groin injury that shelved him for a couple of months is complete. Until the Canucks suffered a 3-2 loss Monday to Los Angeles, Luongo had not allowed more than two goals in a game in the previous eight games.
One of his finest efforts came in the Canucks' impressive 3-1 victory against the Sharks on Saturday in Vancouver. The Canucks were all over the Sharks for much of the night, but they also relied on some key saves by the star goalie.
Two saves stood out – a diving swipe of his blocker to knock a puck away from an empty net, and a glove save off a close-range shot by Jonathan Cheechoo that Luongo made while on his stomach. He made a similar save two nights later against the Kings.
"After that save on Cheechoo, a few guys got up on the bench and started banging their sticks because it gets our confidence even higher," Alex Burrows told the Vancouver Province. "We feel good as a group but we also know Roberto is in his good form like he was a couple of years ago."
If the Canucks keep playing as they have the last month, they believe anything is possible.
“We are looking ahead for sure," Daniel Sedin
told the Province. "We know we have a good team here and that we're capable of winning a lot of games so if Chicago keeps losing maybe we'll have a chance to catch them" Foster helping teen deal with severe injury
-- Minnesota Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster has returned to the ice nearly a year after shattering his femur in a game in San Jose. It was an arduous comeback from a career-threatening injury, so Foster sympathized when he heard about a young hockey player who had suffered a similar injury.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Foster got in touch with Thomas Royea after hearing the 15-year-old high school sophomore and hockey player from Negaunee, Mich., had broken his femur.
"It's not every day a kid gets a call from an NHL player," Royea told the newspaper.
Not surprisingly, Royea is a Red Wings fan. But Foster, 27, has made a big impression on him. Foster recently returned to the Wild after a successful two-week conditioning stint in the American Hockey League.
Of his call to Royea, Foster told the paper, "I just wanted to put a smile on Tom's face because I know what I was like the first couple weeks. I was very down in the dumps, and to get a call from anybody was huge. I just wanted to make him realize he'll be OK and he can come back someday.
"He seemed like a pretty happy kid for what's going on with him. It's just nice to talk to a kid who's asking for a little bit of help. I tried to push him in the right direction."
The phone conversation lasted 25 minutes and Foster gave Royea his phone number so they can stay in touch. Foster also spoke on the phone recently to Derrick LaPoint, a Florida Panthers draft choice who plays for the University of North Dakota and recently broke his leg. Like Foster, LaPoint had rods and pins inserted in his leg.
"(LaPoint) was very anxious and very nervous, and it's funny, but the one question he asked was, 'Do you feel the metal in your leg?'" Foster told the paper. "I said, 'No, I don't feel it. Unless they're doing a deep tissue massage, you don't feel anything inside it.' If that's all the kid's worrying about, he's got a good mindset already."
Royea said he was inspired by watching videos about Foster's comeback on YouTube.
"I watched Kurtis' rehabilitation and saw the hard work he put in, and I believe now that I'll play again, especially after he called me," Royea said. "He just said, 'Do what you can, make sure you take all the steps during the physical therapy, and don't take the easy way out.'" Cooling trend? --
The Flames were rolling. They traded for Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold at the deadline, adding depth and talent to an already potent lineup. They skated into Philadelphia and came away with a 5-1 win.
Then something went haywire over the weekend. The Flames lost by a combined 11-3 margin at Carolina and Atlanta. What gives?
"There's definitely concern, but we still know we're a good team," defenseman Jim Vandermeer told the Calgary Sun. "These kind of things happen. We lost a couple of guys and have to work some guys in, so I think it's working out the kinks. It'll take a bit of time, but to make it as short of a time as possible, we all have to bear down."
Defenseman Cory Sarich added, "You lose to a couple of teams that have worse records than us, it's going to spark some concern. We definitely haven't done the things we needed to do, but I think it's been acknowledged we can play good hockey. It's just going out and applying yourself. It's like that four-game skid we had awhile back. It happens to teams. You don't want it to, but we've got to go back to the basics again. I hate to call them wakeup calls, but they end up being that."
The Flames kept losing Tuesday night, falling 3-2 at New Jersey.
Part of the problem undoubtedly is injuries, though teams don't like using those as excuses when they struggle. Still, it's an inescapable fact that left wing Todd Bertuzzi (knee) and left wing Rene Bourque (ankle) are among those out of the lineup. Center Daymond Langkow (hand) played his first game since Feb. 17 in the loss to the Devils.
"To a man, each guy has to bring that extra little bit," Vandermeer told the Sun. "We've played really well for the first three-quarters of the season, built a little bit of a gap. Good thing we did, otherwise we'd be right back in the pack if we hadn't gotten that lead.
"We just have to make sure we do the things that make us a good team. We all have to play with a sense of urgency. These are huge games, and guys need to feel the importance of it and play like it. Every guy has to play the way we need in order to turn it around." The Penner problem --
Oilers forward Dustin Penner continues to struggle, and was a healthy scratch for Tuesday night's game at Montreal.
It's been a season-long problem for the man with the $4.25 million salary. The Oilers managed to unload disappointing Erik Cole last week, but with the combination of Penner's contract and lack of production, it's in Edmonton's best interest to find a way to get what they expected from him when they signed him nearly two years ago.
"It's a critical time and we need everybody going," coach Craig MacTavish told the Edmonton Journal. "With the deals we made at the deadline, we have added depth, which we haven't had in the past.
"We can't have the patience to wait for guys to round their game into shape. It's actually a real benefit to have that depth. It's just a case of having some options now. The onus is on the players to play well and fill a role."
Earlier in the season, MacTavish blasted Penner. Not this time, however.
"It's too bad. It would have been nice to play," Penner told the Journal. "The five games before that, we played well. Our line had a lot of good chances.
"I guess it's one bad game and you're out of the lineup. It's crunch time, (but) it is tough playing when you know one mistake is going to get you out of the lineup. It's out of my control. I don't make the lines."
Penner has gone 10 games without a goal and played only one shift in the third period Saturday at Toronto. MacTavish sounded as if he's finished trying to prod better performances from Penner.
"If you need to burn a fire, that's a pretty severe indictment," MacTavish told the Journal. "You're playing for the guys sitting next to you in the room. It's an old cliche, but it's true. It's nice not only for the coaches, but the players to know what they're going to get out of guys in crucial situations. If the fire is not there, you'll have trouble locating it." Search for motivation --
The Avalanche's season is basically over. It would take nothing short of a miracle for them to make the playoffs. They'd have to pick up every possible point from here on out and leapfrog a bunch of teams. It's not going to happen.
Some, of course, cling to hope.
"Looking at the schedule, we have eight games against our division," winger Ryan Smyth told the Denver Post. "That's 16 points, and it's a start. Mathematically, there's a chance."
But even Smyth recognizes reality.
"No matter what, you have to look at it like you're going to do the little things to make a difference," he said. "You have to have some pride. The people in this locker room care. They care. It's a matter of keeping our heads held high."
Veteran defenseman Adam Foote told the Post the key is "being strong mentally. … We can't stop playing, that's for sure. We're not going to. Wherever we are at the end, we have to play the right way all the time."
There's a pretty good chance the Avalanche will find themselves in the draft lottery. The ultimate prize would be to get the first pick and the right to select junior star John Tavares. But don't expect the Avalanche to go in the tank down the stretch to enhance their chances of winning the lottery.
"You can't think that way, first of all," coach Tony Granato told the Post. "As an organization, we have a lot of pride. … We want guys to play hard, make the right play and do the right things."