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Make or Break Time

A look at the Canucks third extended road trip of 2016.17...

by Daniel Fung @daniel_fung / Canucks Freelance Writer

It wasn't long ago when it appeared the Canucks were on the cusp of cracking the playoff picture but after stumbling into the All-Star break and then falling flat coming out of it, what once was a one-point gap between the Canucks and a playoff spot has widened into a five-point chasm as the team gets set to embark on their third extended road trip of the campaign.

Needless to say, if the Canucks want to stay in the chase for that elusive playoff spot and play some meaningful games come March and April, they'll need to do something on this six-game trip that they haven't managed to do all season long and that is string together a few wins on the road.

Here's a look at their six opponents on this potential make-or-break trip:

Nashville Predators - February 7

Last Visit: 1-2 L (OT) - January 10, 2017
Last 5 Visits: 2-1-2

Video: VAN@NSH: Sutter goes five-hole to tie the game in 3rd

Just a few weeks prior the Predators were on the Canucks radar as being one of the teams they'd have to chase down or fend off for a wildcard playoff spot. But Nashville has been on quite a run since losing to the Canucks at Rogers Arena on January 17, going on a 5-2-1 run.

The good news for the Canucks is they've had the upper hand on the Preds this season, earning three out of a possible four points to date. Nashville, however, will have a healthy P.K. Subban at their disposal for the first time in the season series. Still, based on recent history, the Canucks should be optimistic about being able to start off this road trip on a positive note, something they haven't managed to do on their previous two lengthy trips this season.

Columbus Blue Jackets - February 9

Last Visit: 5-3 W - November 10, 2016
Last 5 Visits: 3-1-1

Video: VAN@CBJ: Markstrom lays out to make unreal stop 

The Blue Jackets have been one of the best teams in the league this season but recently they haven't quite been the same unstoppable force that they were back in mid-December when they rolled into Rogers Arena and knocked off the Canucks in overtime for their ninth straight win. (The streak would eventually reach 16 in a row falling just one win shy of tying an NHL record).

Columbus boasts one of the league's best home records at 18-6-1 but half of their six regulation home losses at the Nationwide Arena have come in their past six home outings so the Canucks will want to take advantage of their recent woes. The Canucks will also want to build on some recent success at the Nationwide Arena. They've won two straight in that building, three of the last four overall, and have not suffered a defeat in Columbus since October 20, 2013.

Boston Bruins - February 11

Last Visit: 4-2 W - January 21, 2016
Last 5 Visits: 4-1-0

Video: 1/21/16: VAN 4, BOS 2

Boston coach Claude Julien's name seems to be a favourite target among the Bruins' faithful as being the easy scapegoat whenever the team struggles and if the fans had their way Julien might have already earned a one-way ticket out of town earlier this season. Amazing how a few timely wins can change things. A recent three-game win streak has helped propel Boston back into the thick of the playoff race although it's quite possible they could themselves once again on the outside looking in by the time the Canucks arrive in town.

Both the Canucks and Bruins have bigger concerns these days than taking trips down memory lane although it's worth pointing out (just because it's almost an obligation to) that the Canucks are 3-1-0 at the TD Garden and 5-2-0 overall against the Bruins since 2011. The Canucks will want to pay close attention to their old nemesis, Brad Marchand. He's been finding the scoresheet with regularity of late, was named of the Three Stars by the NHL in January, and has been up to some of his old tricks as well just narrowly avoiding suspension for a pair of slew-footing incidents.

Buffalo Sabres - February 12

Last Visit: 2-3 L - November 7, 2015
Last 5 Visits: 1-3-1

Video: VAN@BUF: H. Sedin snaps shot by Ullmark short side 

On paper the Sabres may seem like the easiest opponent for the Canucks on this trip and the likeliest team they can pick up two points against but don't let their position in the standings fool you. The Sabres have been extremely competitive playing in a much tougher Eastern Conference and they've earned some positive results recently on home ice albeit they'll host a couple of tough opponents in the Sharks and Ducks just before they welcome the Canucks to town.

The Sabres haven't had a sniff of the playoffs since 2011, and they've also endured a couple of league-worst finishes since then, but they certainly have not rolled over for the Canucks during those lean years. In fact, the Canucks have just one win in their last six visits to Buffalo since 2007. Last season's visit to Buffalo should serve as a cautionary tale for this year's squad. The Canucks fell behind 2-0 in that contest and then engineered a comeback to tie the game only to surrender the game-winning goal with 17 seconds left in regulation. The Canucks knocked off the Sabres 2-1 earlier this season at Rogers Arena.

Pittsburgh Penguins - February 14

Last Visit: 4-5 L - January 23, 2016
Last 5 Visits: 2-2-1

Video: VAN@PIT: Hansen scores shorthanded for second goal

No matter how well or poorly this trip starts out for the Canucks, there will still be plenty of buzz when they stop at the PPG Paints Arena on Valentine's Day to battle the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time this season. The Canucks will hope by this point in the trip they've banked a few wins along the way already seeing as how most opposition teams this season going in search of two points at the PPG Paints Arena have come away with nothing to show for their efforts.

It goes without saying but the Canucks, who were swept in the season series by the Penguins last year, need to pay particular attention to Sidney Crosby, who is looking to add a Maurice Richard Trophy and an Art Ross Trophy this season to his already long list of career awards. Crosby, barring a mini-slump over the next week or so, will have become the 86th player in NHL history to reach the 1,000th point mark by the time the Pens host the Canucks.

St. Louis Blues - February 16

Last Visit: 0-4 L - March 25, 2016
Last 5 Visits: 3-1-1

Video: VAN@STL: Markstrom stops Fabbri after nifty moves

The road trip finale figures to be the most crucial game of the trip for the Canucks, or at least they hope that's the case by the time they get to St. Louis. The Blues, once thought to be a lock to make the post-season, have been reeling of late, so much so that they made Ken Hitchcock the sacrificial lamb replacing the respected veteran coach with former Wild bench boss Mike Yeo in hopes of getting them out of their downward spiral. The Blues also learned recently that sophomore sniper Robby Fabbri is out for the season with a knee injury.

The Blues could be anywhere from holding down a playoff spot to behind the Canucks in the standings by the time this game occurs. The Scottrade Center has been kind to the Canucks over the years although last year's lone visit was a forgettable one for the visitors - a 4-0 shutout loss in late March that saw Vancouver put up a paltry 15 shots on goal. It was the first time in six visits to St. Louis the Canucks came away completely empty-handed. The Canucks knocked off the Blues at Rogers Arena by a 2-1 score in overtime in their lone head-to-head meeting earlier this season back in the opening week of the season.

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