The Vancouver Canucks sit atop the Pacific Division, but they have to start playing better against top competition.
Thanks to the state of a surprisingly weak Pacific Division, the Vancouver Canucks are in excellent position to end a five-year playoff drought.
Entering play on Wednesday, Vancouver sat first in the division with 65 points. The Edmonton Oilers (one game in hand) are three points behind, with the Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights close behind at 61 points apiece. The Calgary Flames are also in striking distance with 60.
The Canucks have been one of the biggest surprises across the NHL this season. But the playoffs are far from a guarantee, and they shouldn’t even think about a division title right now. There’s way too much time left for the others to catch up.
Though Vancouver has slowly but surely put the league on notice, they can’t be considered a true Stanley Cup contender yet. At least, not until they start showing their abilities to really hang tough against the top opponents.
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After losing a sloppy 4-3 shootout affair to the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday, the Canucks were completely overwhelmed and manhandled by the the superior Boston Bruins, who skated away with an easy 4-0 victory on Tuesday.
It was an emotional, physical and heated game in Beantown, and it provided the Canucks a proper glimpse of what the postseason will look like.
They may qualify thanks in large part to a weak division, but once the playoffs roll around, the Canucks will have to bring the A-game.
Take a look at Vancouver’s performances against top opponents, and you’ll see why many are skeptical about their ability to go far in the playoffs:
- Washington Capitals (1-0-1 record): In their first meeting on Oct. 25, Vancouver blew a 5-1 lead before falling in a shootout. Jacob Markstrom had to stand on his head for 32 saves in the 2-1 shootout victory on Nov. 23.
- Pittsburgh Penguins: (1-1-0): Lost 8-6 on Nov. 27 despite holding a 6-3 lead in the third period. Won 4-1 in Dec. 21 meeting, although it could have been different if Sidney Crosby suited up.
- Tampa Bay Lightning: (0-1-0): Ugly 9-2 loss on Jan. 7.
- Boston Bruins: Lost 4-0 on Tuesday in perhaps their sloppiest performance of the season
- St. Louis Blues: (2-0-1): Vancouver won the season series, but it’d be hard to bet on them against the defending Stanley Cup champions in a best-of-seven.
- Dallas Stars: (0-2-0): Dallas has outscored Vancouver 10-3 in the season series.
- Colorado Avalanche (0-1-0): Vancouver fell 5-4 in overtime on Nov. 16. Colorado’s superior roster and experience would give them the edge if these two clubs met in the postseason.
The Canucks have also struggled against extremely talented but underachieving teams such as the Florida Panthers, Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs, going 1-4-0 against those three clubs.
If Vancouver is serious about making a strong push in the postseason, they’ll have to show their ability to keep up with the elite teams, because that simply hasn’t been the case for the most part here in 2019-20.