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Press Round-Up: FEB.12.08

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks
THE PROVINCE
Canucks have work cut out in chase for playoff berth: In ninth place with 25 games left and the third toughest schedule

Jason Botchford and The Province breaks down the Western Playoff Race:

The Red Wings are heading to the playoffs on cruise control, the Wild have yet to take their turn playing the woeful Southeast Division, the Ducks play 64 per cent of their remaining games at home and the Dallas Stars are pulling away.

It leaves an interesting question for the Canucks, now on the outside of the postseason race looking in. They are faced with a daunting schedule that features 15 games in March in 10 different cities. To make matters more difficult, 16 of Vancouver's remaining 25 games are against teams now in a playoff spot.

So, who can Vancouver overtake to make the playoffs?

There is one clear answer after studying the schedules of 10 teams vying for seven playoff spots (forget Detroit, they're in).

The Canucks, who have the West's third hardest schedule, should have one clear target. The Calgary Flames, who are the one team Vancouver fans can turn to for solace when they start complaining about this year's schedule.

The Flames have to be seeing red over a stretch run that has them playing 17 of their final 26 games on the road (and 13 of the 26 are against teams currently in a playoff spot).

Their last four games will be hosted by divisional rivals in unfriendly arenas. Two of those games are in Vancouver at what should be a charged-up GM Place.

Only the San Jose Sharks have a harder schedule than the Flames.

Leaving out St. Louis, Chicago and Edmonton, who all could theoretically crawl into the hunt, and forgetting the Kings who are out of it, The Province broke down the remaining schedules of 10 teams going for seven playoff spots.

The results are intriguing.

The Predators, with the third easiest schedule in the West, won't be easy to beat, especially with just 11 games left against playoff teams.

The Wild, with the second easiest schedule, have a big edge in the race for the Northwest Division crown. And the Ducks are virtually a lock as they will get to spend one three-week stretch at home.

Here we rank the contenders, from hardest remaining schedule to easiest:

SAN JOSE SHARKS
Points: 69 (4th)
Games remaining: 27
Home games left: 11
Games against teams now in playoffs: 15

Toughest stretch: It's a good thing for San Jose that the Sharks are road warriors. They have a stomach-churning eight-game, 13-night trip starting Sunday. They will play three games that start before 1 p.m. PST, including the first game of the trip when the puck will drop at 10 a.m. The trip includes two back-to-backs and games against the Flyers, Rangers, Wings, Pens and Devils.

Easy street: The Sharks' only real break comes at the end of March when they play Phoenix in San Jose before a home-and-home against the Kings.

Synopsis: Any other team would be trembling in fear at the lengthy road trip San Jose has starting Sunday, but the Sharks have been virtually unbeatable on the road (17-5-3). Even if they finish .500 on that trip, the Sharks will still be in great shape for a high postseason seed.

CALGARY FLAMES
Points: 64 (7th)
Games remaining: 26
Home games left: 9
Games against teams now in playoffs: 13

Toughest stretch: The Flames play their last nine games against the Northwest Division. But their roughest stretch begins today when they start a five-game road trip that includes games against the Sharks, Ducks and Stars. They come home Feb. 22 for a game against the Wings and only to go back on the road to Minny to play the Wild on the 24th.

Easy street: The Flames have their work cut out for them, especially with 17 road games left. But there are certainly tougher road trips than the one they face starting March 12 when they play Washington, Atlanta, Chicago and Columbus.

Synopsis: The Flames are going to have to do much better than .500 on the road to make the playoffs. The good news for their fans is they've proven with a 13-10-1 record that they can hold their own outside of Cowtown.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Points: 63 (9th)
Games remaining: 25
Home games left: 13
Games against teams now in playoffs: 16

Toughest stretch: March is brutal for the Canucks. They have 15 games and play in 10 different cities, including four different road trips. Starting March 10 they play nine of 10 games on the road in an 18-day span.

Easy street: The Canucks catch one break at the end of the year when they finish the season with a four-game home stand against Colorado, Edmonton and Calgary twice.

Synopsis: It may not be the hardest remaining schedule, but it's close. The Canucks don't catch many breaks down the stretch. They have 14 games left against divisional teams that will decide their fate.

COLORADO AVALANCHE
Points: 65 (6th)
Games remaining: 26
Home games left: 13
Games against teams now in playoffs: 14

Toughest stretch: Where the Avs finish in the Northwest Division will be decided in the season's last nine games, which are all against divisional rivals. Five of those games are on the road.

Easy street: Colorado gets a four-game home stand to begin March. The Avs have some tough opponents, including the Ducks and Stars, but don't have any back-to-backs in that stretch.

Synopsis: Joe Sakic is scheduled to be back just in time. The Avs can win the division if they go on a run to end the season during those nine straight games against divisional teams.

PHOENIX COYOTES
Points: 60 (11th)
Games remaining: 25
Home games left: 15
Games against teams now in playoffs: 15

Toughest stretch: In a five-game stretch to start March, the Coyotes play Calgary, Dallas, Montreal, Ottawa and Anaheim in a 10-day span. It's a stretch capable of knocking them right out of the playoffs.

Easy street: Phoenix still has four games left against the Kings and that's been, in general this year, about as easy as it gets in the West.

Synopsis: The Coyotes have 15 home games left, which is more than any team in the West.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Points: 61 (10th)
Games remaining: 24
Home games left: 11
Games against teams now in playoffs: 12

Toughest stretch: A trip to the east just before the trade deadline could make or break the season. On Friday, the Jackets play the Red Wings to begin a five-game, eight-day tour through St. Louis, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

Easy street: The Jackets can make up some ground starting March 7 when they have a five-game home stand where they will play non-contenders Edmonton, Chicago and Tampa Bay.

Synopsis: If the Jackets can make it through February on the cusp on the playoffs, they will have a legitimate shot. They have eight of 13 games at home in March.

DALLAS STARS
Points: 75 (2nd)
Games remaining: 22
Home games left: 12
Games against teams now in playoffs: 12

Toughest stretch: Starting March 8, the Stars face their only real potential stumbling block. In 11 days, they play five games -- the Avs in a home-and-home, the Wings in Detroit and both the Canucks and the Ducks in Texas.

Easy street: At the end of February, the Stars get a three-game home stand in which they play the Blackhawks, Coyotes and Predators.

Synopsis: Even though Dallas has already played 60 games, the Stars would have to have a complete meltdown to miss the playoffs with this schedule.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Points: 64 (8th)
Games remaining: 25
Home games left: 14
Games against teams now in playoffs: 11

Toughest stretch: If the Predators can make it out of a six-game road trip -- which begins Feb. 27 in Buffalo -- in a playoff position, it will be difficult to knock them out. The six games aren't easy and include matchups with the Flames, Canucks and Red Wings.

Easy street: The Preds have probably the easiest schedule down the stretch. While the Northwest teams will be beating on each other, the final seven games for Nashville feature two against the Blues, two against the Blackhawks and two against the Blue Jackets.

Synopsis: With just 11 games against teams in the playoffs right now, Nashville has arguably the easiest remaining schedule in the Western Conference.

MINNESOTA WILD
Points: 68 (3rd)
Games remaining: 26
Home games left: 13
Games against teams now in playoffs: 11

Toughest stretch
: There's only one difficult week for the Wild and it begins March 19 when Minnesota plays four games in six nights on the road against San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.

Easy street: Where to begin? An easy remaining schedule will become ridiculous starting Feb. 26. That's when the Wild take a turn against the Southeast Division. Vancouver struggled in its trip to Florida but few other teams have. For seven games in a row, the Wild will play teams in tough to make the playoffs -- Washington, Tampa Bay, Florida, Los Angeles, Chicago, Carolina and Atlanta.

Synopsis: Looking at the Wild's schedule it's nearly impossible not to envision Minny in the playoffs with a high seed. Fifteen of their remaining 26 games are against teams not now in a playoff spot.

ANAHEIM DUCKS
Points: 69 (5th)
Games remaining: 22
Home games left: 14
Games against teams now in playoffs: 12

Toughest stretch: It begins today with a game against the Avs in Colorado. The Ducks will then be home Friday and have three consecutive games against good teams -- the Stars, Flames and Avs. That's about as tough as it gets for Anaheim the rest of the year.

Easy street: Teemu Selanne has great timing. The Ducks had it oh-so-rough to start the season when they had to go overseas. They get their payback starting now. After today's game, the Ducks will be home for three straight weeks. That's right, weeks. They will play seven games and no back-to-backs. Must be nice.

Synopsis: With only eight road games left, everything is looking ducky for Anaheim. The Ducks are another team on solid footing for the playoffs.
THE VANCOUVER SUN
Canucks must play follow the leaders: Naslund, Luongo set tone for rookies
Elliott Pap said Canuck leaders must continue to lead their team through these times of difficulty:

Captain Markus Naslund and goalie Luongo came through Sunday in the team's most critical hour (to date),” said Pap.

Naslund's deft deflection of a caromed Mattias Ohlund point shot with Luongo on the bench evened the count at 2-2. Then Luongo shut the shootout door on Chicago's talented trio of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp.

Leaders are supposed to lead and the two highest paid Canucks were clutch on this night. Now it remains to be seen whether there is any carry-over to their next test Thursday, when the Northwest Division-leading Minnesota Wild stroll into GM Place.

The Canucks thought maybe they were on their way after a 2-1 come-from-behind win in Atlanta to conclude their recent road trip. They promptly fell on their faces and lost 6-2 Saturday to the Colorado Avalanche.

With their patchwork lineup, the Canucks have been deploying five and six rookies on a nightly basis, including three on defence. These freshmen haven't been through the pressure cooker of an NHL stretch run, so it's up to Naslund and his fellow vets to rally them through the dark days.

"We've been here before," said Naslund, who Sunday reached the 20-goal plateau for a team-record ninth straight season.

"It's definitely up to us. The young guys are obviously just happy to be here and they're going to follow our lead. It's up to us to get everyone going.

"We talked before the Chicago game and pointed out it's a crucial time and we have to have better efforts and better starts, and how a better start can usually carry over and get the whole team going."

Naslund wanted to make a physical statement against the Blackhawks -- "move out of character," as he put it -- and although not credited with any official hits, he flirted with grittiness.

"I think it goes a long way when you finish hits and stuff," he added.

"I think it gets the team going. I think we did a better job of that against Chicago."

Don't look for the captain to drop his mitts like Byron Ritchie did Sunday, but he seems determined to add more sandpaper to his game.
THE PROVINCE
For Bourdon it's ready, steady, grow


Ed Willes said Luc Bourdon looks at his career understanding that everything happens for a reason:

Two-and-a-half years ago, for example, he should have made the Vancouver Canucks but he now realizes he wasn't ready to play in the NHL.

Two years ago, he suffered a cataclysmic ankle injury but he now realizes that taught him to deal with adversity.

As for last year, when he played for five different teams in three different leagues, he learned you have to be resilient because the pro game isn't always going to go smoothly.

Yes, as he regards his journey, Bourdon sounds like a seasoned pro, and even if he isn't playing like one just yet, he's on his way. But that's not the best part. The best part is the kid from New Brunswick turns 21 in four more days.

"Sometimes people forget I'm 20 years old," Bourdon says. "Even back home they don't understand why I'm not in the NHL [permanently] right now. I know I've been around and I've been close but I'm happy with where I am."

In his latest call-up with the Canucks, the former first-round phenom has settled inconspicuously into a regular role on the team's blueline, which, if you're aware of his history, is a very good thing. He's now played 15 games with the NHL team, averaging between 14 and 16 minutes an outing while sporting a nifty plus-seven rating. True, his place might be jeopardized by the return of Willie Mitchell later this week but in his two stints with the Canucks, Bourdon has demonstrated his development is back on track.

"From what I saw last year at training camp, he's come leaps and bounds on and off the ice," says fellow Maritimer Rick Bowness, the team's associate coach.

After winning gold with Team Canada at the world juniors in Vancouver, Bourdon was traded from Val d'Or to Moncton, where he promptly demolished his ankle. Doctors told him at the time it would take two years to fully recover from that injury.

"Confidence is something that's hard to gain but really easy to lose," Bourdon says. "I'm aware last year wasn't my best year. My injury was still bothering me. You start questioning yourself. Am I supposed to be that good?"

"I was getting beat too much and I know that was the main reason I couldn't play up here," he says. "I finally learned if I want to play in the NHL I had to learn those little details. Sometimes skills aren't enough."
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