| It's been a long-time coming for the Vancouver Canucks and their fans.
After a lockout and a letdown, the Canucks are playoff-bound for the first time in three springs. Tuesday's 3-0 win in Denver allowed the Canucks to punch their post-season tickets and now it's just a matter of where they'll finish and who they'll face when the opening round begins next month.
As my colleague John Shorthouse pointed out on the Team 1040 pregame show last weekend (man, it burns me when he makes a good point - I have to figure out who's writing his material), it's not out of the question that all eight teams in the Western Conference playoff picture will finish the season with 100 or more points.
And sure, the overtime/shootout bonus point is responsible for some of it, but I don't care how you slice that fact, it's pretty remarkable that every team in the playoff picture could be over the century mark. Seven of the teams - including the Canucks -- will certainly get there and it's not out of the question for Calgary which needs eight points from its remaining six games to reach triple digits as well.
Imagine four teams hitting the century mark and being considered underdogs in their opening round series. Imagine four teams hitting the 100 point plateau and having to pack their bags to start the playoffs on the road.
In fact, when the Canucks hit the road for the final two games of the season in San Jose and Phoenix in 10 days, they will likely jet out still not knowing their playoff fate. That's just how tight it is in the West where the Canucks could realistically finish anywhere from first to seventh with just six games to play. And they're not alone.
What makes this stretch run so spectacular is the volatility in the standings on a nightly basis. Take Minnesota for example - with the single point the Wild claimed in the shootout loss to Calgary on Tuesday, Minny moved past the Canucks into top spot in the division and into the third seed in the conference - for about an hour. Then as the Canucks beat Colorado, Dallas decked Phoenix and San Jose skated past Los Angeles, the Wild tumbled. And tumbled. And tumbled some more all the way from third to seventh in the span of about 60 minutes. How crazy is that?
And it's going to happen again before this is all said and done and the playoff match-ups are etched in stone. With 12 days left in the regular season, there are still nine head-to-head games between teams on the right side of the playoff bar in the Western Conference.
On Thursday, Detroit's at Nashville and Calgary's in Minnesota. On Friday, Dallas is at Detroit and Saturday sees the Canucks face the Flames for the final time this season while Dallas roll into Nashville for what's sure to be a spirited showdown with the Predators given the recent history there.
And next week, there will be no question about the game of the night - one game stands out over all of the others starting on Wednesday April 4th when San Jose's at Anaheim. On Thursday the 5th, the Sharks are at home to Calgary. On Friday, the 6th, Anaheim's in Dallas in a game that could very well decide the Pacific Division. And on Saturday April 7th, the Canucks swim with the Sharks.
As much fun as it is to play the "If the playoffs started tomorrow game," there's really no point trying to size up the match-ups because just when you think you've got things pegged, they change. And they'll continue to change quite likely until the final day of the regular season - April 8th - when four of the top eight are in action including the Canucks who finish things off down in the desert.
Nerve-wracking? Sure. Exhilarating? No question. A whole lot of fun? Absolutely. And that's just for the fans. Now, just imagine getting to be a player and being caught up in all of this. The past couple of months, as good as they've been, haven't been anything at all. The real fun is about to begin. Get in, grab on and buckle up for what's sure to be one of the best sprints to the finish the National Hockey League has ever seen. And the best part about it for everyone here on the West Coast is that the Canucks are right in the middle of it.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org