Burning Canucks hope they don’t run out of playoff time

The Vancouver Canucks suddenly have everything going for them, except time.

Their 5-2 road win Sunday over the New York Rangers, which followed the Canucks’ 7-1 home win Thursday over the Calgary Flames, gives Vancouver a three-game winning streak for the first time since December. .

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Postgame: Canucks hold firm in New York

February 28, 2022

At 26-22-6, the Canucks have four games over .500 for the first time in nearly two years, and their 69% winning percentage since Bruce Boudreau took over as coach on Dec. 6 ties Vancouver (18- 7-4 since then) with the mighty Toronto Maple Leafs (17-7-2) for the best record in Canada.

Goaltender Thatcher Demko continues to play like a Vezina Trophy contender, elite forwards JT Miller and Elias Pettersson lead the offense, and even the Canucks’ wobbly special teams are looking better.

It’s just a shame that the team played 22 games in the National Hockey League season before they started playing like this.

The Canucks face the Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks for a Western Conference playoff berth as far as time goes by.

They have 28 games left, starting Monday against the New Jersey Devils.

That probably won’t be enough. But with five wins in six games — including three against some of the NHL’s best teams — the Canucks appear to have found another gear just in time for the regular season knockout.

Matthew Highmore and fellow fourth-row Juho Lammikko scored on second-period deflections after first-period goals from Tanner Pearson and Tyler Myers, both set up by JT Miller, gave the Canucks a 2-0 lead. Pettersson scored into an empty net after a sudden surge from Rangers in the third period allowed Alexis Lafrenière and Ryan Strome to score just over four minutes apart.

“I think we’re just playing with a lot of desperation,” Highmore said. “I mean, not that it wasn’t January. . . but I think we found a little something here. Our group is gaining confidence. We have to keep going and getting points, and you never know what’s going to happen.

OVERVIEW VEZINA?

After the Rangers used starting goaltender Igor Shesterkin in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York coach Gerard Gallant chose to rest his Vezina and Hart Trophy contender against the Canucks, who saw substitute Alexandar Georgiev. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t yet a Vezina candidate on display at Madison Square Garden. Demko had another outstanding game, stopping 31 of 33 shots.

As with the win over the Flames, Demko’s most important saves came in the first period when the score was tight. He made close range saves against Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad.

“I have nothing more to say because, I mean, he was amazing,” Boudreau said. “The Calgary game was not a 7-1 game and this game was not a 5-2 game. If it hadn’t been for Demko early, it would have been very different. He comes to play every night.

PLAY EVERY NIGHT

It’s far too early to tell if the past week was a turning point for Canucks readiness and player accountability, as part of the shift in team culture that Boudreau and general manager Patrik Allvin are trying to generate. But since Allvin, in a meeting with Sportsnet on Wednesday, challenged players to be better prepared every day, game or practice, and that many had something to prove, the Canucks built a 7-0 lead against the Flames and 4-0 against the Rangers.

On Thursday, Miller said the Canucks had “just set a standard for ourselves for the rest of the year.”

The Canucks certainly hit that standard on Sunday to begin their four-game road trip.

“I don’t know if standard is the word,” Boudreau said when asked about it on Zoom. “We definitely see that with every game that goes by, the next game is way more important. I mean, we’re in a hunt for the playoffs. We have to be ready for every game. That’s what we have to do. I don’t know if it’s more ready or anything, but we play to win.

THE TIME OF THE MILLER

How good has Miller been over the past six weeks?

There has been a lot of attention, warranted, on Pettersson’s mid-season turnaround. Returning from a serious wrist injury last spring, the Canucks star played the first 37 games of the season with just six goals and 17 points. But he has 11 goals and 10 assists in 17 games since Jan. 15, though he rarely plays five-on-five with Vancouver’s top wingers.

During the same span, Miller, who missed two games during COVID protocol, has nine goals and 23 points. His 1.53 points per game ranks him fourth in the NHL since Jan. 15, behind only Maple Leafs Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, and Matthew Tkachuk of the Flames.

No wonder teams are bidding on Miller before the March 21 trade deadline. And no wonder the Canucks are so wary of trading him now, especially since he has another season under contract with a salary of US$5.25 million that ranks him 172nd in the the NHL.

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