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There's Still Some Sunshine Left

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks
 While the sun may not be shining on the Vancouver Canucks these days, it hasn’t exactly set on their playoff hopes, either.

Hey, there is no doubt it has been a tough – nearly disastrous -- week for the hockey club and the news that Brendan Morrison’s already trying season came to an end Wednesday night in Denver hasn’t done much to buoy the spirits in Canuckville.

But you know what? There are five games left on the schedule and five games that must be played. And at last check, it was the Canucks who were ahead of the Nashville Predators in the race for the final playoff spot. It’s also the Canucks, 20-12-5 at GM Place this year, who play four of their final games on home ice while the Preds, who are 16-17-4 on the road this season, have but one home game left to play.

The Canucks simply have to match the Predators over the final five games and they’re in. Now, much has been made of Nashville’s ‘easier’ schedule down the stretch and, on paper at least, there’s no question that the Preds face lesser opponents. But if any team in the NHL knows the perils of playing ‘winnable’ games, it’s the Canucks. And they’d be more than happy to tell the Predators, there are no guarantees or any freebies in the NHL.

Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight.

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Nashville helped its own cause with a 3-0 win over Columbus on Tuesday night. But the Blue Jackets didn’t like the late game antics of Jordan Tootoo who, in essence, gave Columbus plenty of motivation for the rematch on Friday night at Nationwide Arena.

On Sunday, the Preds skate into Joe Louis Arena to take on the Red Wings. Nashville beat Detroit on home ice two weeks ago, so don’t for a second think the Wings will take this lightly, especially since this has the potential to be a first-round playoff match-up.

After that, it’s into St. Louis on Tuesday where the Blues have had a miserable season. But they still have 30 wins on the year and 19 of those have come on home ice. They’ve also taken two of their three home games against the Predators this season.

The Preds and Blues hook up again in Nashville next Thursday. The Predators certainly stand a strong chance to win their home finale, but they’ll likely have to win their final home game of the year and pressure can do strange things to professional sports teams and pro athletes.

The Predators finish with a back-to-back situation in Chicago a week from Friday in the Blackhawks’ final home game of the season. The Hawks have taken some serious strides this year to restore the image of the hockey club in the Windy City. And you know Denis Savard’s group will want to finish up strong to send that returning fan base home with something to remember for the off-season.

So, perhaps Nashville has an easier schedule remaining than the Canucks. But with the up and down season the Predators have had, it seems a stretch to think that they’ll go much better than 3-2 to close out their year.

That means the Canucks would then have to go 3-2 (or even 2-2-1) and they’ll make the playoffs.

If Nashville can do no better than 2-3, then the Canucks get in going 2-3 (or even 1-3-1).

The Vancouver Canucks have five games left. Four of those are on home ice. Three wins will likely get them where they want to go, but playing the way they have the past couple of nights certainly will not.

For the sake of this discussion at least, all of the questions about the Canucks’ chances of doing some damage once the post-season rolls around have to be cast aside. This column is not about the Vancouver Canucks winning the Stanley Cup. This is about the players on the roster and the coaching staff coming together, addressing the issues surrounding this group right now, and pushing forward over the final five games to answer the mounting questions about their ability to come through at crunch time.

It’s about the professionalism of every guy who throws on a Canucks jersey knowing that they haven’t been anywhere close to good enough over the past two games and doing everything in their power to correct that immediately.

It’s about every player recognizing what’s at stake from jobs and contracts for next year to the thrill of playing playoff hockey and the experience for young players who’ve never had that chance and who need it to develop.

Despite the darkness of the past few days, the reality of the situation is that the Vancouver Canucks remain in a better position than the Nashville Predators. But every bit of their margin for error has been eliminated and they’re asking for trouble with their recent play. Still, with four games at home to round out the regular season, the Canucks couldn’t ask for much more of an opportunity.

Now it’s up to them to make the most of it.
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