This season has definitely been a step backward for the Vancouver Canucks after last year’s playoff run. Vancouver stunned the reigning Stanley Cup champion, St. Louis Blues, before taking the Vegas Golden Knights to seven games in the second round. This season has gone in a very different direction. They’re currently in sixth place in the Scotia North Division, had a relatively quiet trade deadline and are just getting their legs back from a near-month-long absence after an outbreak within the organization of the COVID-19 virus.
Still, with all of that being said, Vancouver’s playoff hopes aren’t dead just yet. After back-to-back wins against the Toronto Maple Leafs, they sit just 10 points back of the reeling Montreal Canadiens with four games in hand. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and a lot has to go Vancouver’s way, but a playoff berth in 2021 isn’t out of the question.
Games in Hand
This is the main thing Vancouver has on every other team in their division. Through the first half of the season, Vancouver always seemed to be ahead in games played and were never ahead enough to be in a playoff position. After the near month off due to the COVID-19 wave, the Canucks seemingly now have a handful of games in hand on the teams they’re trying to catch.
First, the Calgary Flames. Vancouver sits just two points back with FIVE (yes, five) games in hand on them. The Flames have underachieved all year and have left the door wide open for Vancouver to pass them in the standings. Then there’s Montreal, who have a 10 point cushion over the Canucks, but have played four more games than them, and haven’t looked great of late – not to mention goaltender Carey Price is out another week due to injury.
Getting Hot At The Right Time
It’s a narrative as old as we can remember: it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. We’ve seen it with multiple teams. The Los Angeles Kings were an eighth seed that went on to win the Stanley Cup. The Flames in 2004 went all the way to the finals; the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim did the same thing in 2003.
For Vancouver, the beginning of the season did not get off to the start they were hoping for. But the Canucks started getting goaltending from both Thatcher Demko and Brayden Holtby, started playing better defensively and are figuring out different ways of winning. They aren’t blowing teams away, but a win counts the same whether you dominate from start to finish or squeak out a defensive slugfest.
A Little Help Along The Way
Sometimes, you need a little help along the way. The Canucks can win every game down the stretch and still miss the postseason. They’re trailing in the playoff race with just a few weeks to go and need to make up a lot of ground, but if they get a little help along the way, it makes a significant difference.
Montreal and Calgary both sit ahead, and while, yes, the Canucks have games in hand, they still could use a little help along the way. Even if both teams (specifically Montreal) go .500 down the stretch, it could vastly improve Vancouver’s opportunity to end the season red hot and sneak into the playoffs.
The Road Ahead
The Canucks down the stretch are in a four-game set vs. the Ottawa Senators and have a real opportunity to gain some valuable points, which they started off with a loss. They then have a series against the top three teams in the division after, starting with the Leafs. The plus side is they’ve won four straight against them and are playing their best hockey of the season. The real kicker is that four of their last five games come against the Flames, who depending on how the next few weeks go, could be well and out of the playoff race.
There is a real opportunity for the Canucks to find a way into the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs. If they can get hot, utilize their games in hand and maybe get a little bit of help, we could very well be watching Canucks playoff hockey come May.
I’m a London, Ontario based broadcaster and sports writer for the Vancouver Canucks. I’ve done work in the past reporting on the NHL, NBA and MLB. I’ve also covered the OHL including the Owen Sound Attack and am currently involved with the London Knights.