TORONTO (CP) - A win over the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs in their pocket, the Vancouver Canucks now face the real test on their four-game road trip through the Northeast Division.
Their competition in the next three games is a combined 37 games over .500, just the kind of barometer the red-hot Canucks feel ready to face.
Winners of eight of their last nine games, the Canucks play at Montreal on Tuesday, Ottawa on Thursday and Buffalo next Saturday. Then comes the all-star break.
"I think it's going to end up being a very important part of our season," said Canucks captain Markus Naslund. "Divisional games might be a little more important, but going into the break you want to have a good feeling. We want to keep this thing going. We've been hot of late."
The 25-19-1 Canucks can't stop and catch their breath because the Northwest Division is way too competitive to afford them a break. They're one point behind first-place Calgary, two points ahead of Minnesota before the Wild played Sunday night, four ahead of Colorado and five up on last-place Edmonton.
"Our division is unbelievable so every win is huge," said Canucks forward Daniel Sedin.
A 6-1 rout of Toronto on Saturday night kicked off the trip in grand style, with hundreds of Canucks fans jumping out of their seats at the Air Canada Centre with every goal. It likely won't come so easy against the 25-15-5 Canadiens, 26-19-2 Senators (9-1-1 in their last 11 games) and the 31-11-3 Sabres.
"This is obviously a very tough trip but it's also great fun for us," said Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault. "To come out here and play against the Original Six Leafs and Habs, and then play in Ottawa and Buffalo, the top team, it's a real treat for us.
"It's unfortunate that our fans in Vancouver don't get to see the Leafs and the Habs this season but that's how the NHL schedule is right now."
For the 45-year-old Vigneault, the game Tuesday will have special meaning. It's his first trip back to the Bell Centre as the opposing NHL coach ever since the Habs gave him his walking papers in 2001, which ended his first NHL head coaching job.
"It should be a lot of fun," the Gatineau, Que., native said of Tuesday's game. "I won't say I've been waiting for this a long time but I've been thinking about it for a while. The opportunity go back there will be something special for me and my friends."
All-star goalie Roberto Luongo will also have his clan at the Bell Centre. The Montreal native loves playing in his hometown much like Martin Brodeur does with the Devils.
"It's not the first game I've ever played in Montreal," said the former Florida Panthers netminder, the first star of Saturday's game. "But it's always nice to play in front of a lot of family and friends who will be at the game."
Luongo will be the only player on his team headed to Dallas once the road trip is done next weekend after he was voted by the fans to start in goal for the Western Conference.
While the Sedin twins had a solid case for nomination - Henrik is 30th in NHL scoring with 45 points (4-40) while Daniel has 44 (17-27) - the league's hockey operations department looked them over.
"Not really," Henrik responded when asked if he felt snubbed. "It's a great bonus to be there, it would have been a great honour to be picked. But there's a thousand good hockey players out there. It's like picking Canada's Olympic team, you could pick whoever and it's going to be the right choice."
Instead, the twins will kick back and relax during the five-day break.
"We're going to stay in sunny Vancouver," Henrik said with a grin.