8 things the Canucks still have to play for in their final three games of the regular season

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
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The final stretch of the 2023/24 regular season is beginning to take on the resemblance of a coffeemaker for the Vancouver Canucks.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
We’re ultimately brewing up a big pot of excitement for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it’s proving to be an interminable wait, with the team’s final five scheduled games spread out over 12 mid-March days.
That said, as much as fans, media, and players alike want to just get on with the important stuff, there’s still plenty for the Canucks to play for, even as they’re down to just three regular season games remaining.
A lot more to play for, in fact, than they’ve had at this point in the year in any recent memory. The ends of most regular seasons over the past decades have featured folks cheering for losses, so as to raise the Canucks’ chances of getting a good draft pick.
Go back a little further, and you can find the Canucks using the last few games of the regular season to secure a playoff position.
Neither scenario will be a factor in 2023/24. And yet, in a sense, these last few games will be as important as they’ve ever been, just for entirely different reasons.
Here’s what the Canucks are still playing for:
Home-Ice Advantage and the Pacific Crown
The Canucks had already sealed up home-ice advantage for the first round earlier in the week. Any further guarantee of home-ice advantage, however, will have to come out of the final three games of the regular season.
As of this writing, the Canucks are four points up on the Edmonton Oilers for the Pacific Division lead, but the Oilers have two games in hand with five remaining to the Canucks’ three. Beating the Oilers on Saturday will go a long way to ensuring the Canucks finish at the top of the Pacific, but it will only guarantee home-ice advantage if the Oilers have lost their game to Arizona in the interim.
Otherwise, the Canucks will need at least one more win to secure it.
Ensuring home-ice advantage beyond the Pacific, and into the third round, is another story. Right now the Dallas Stars are four points up on the Canucks and also have three more games remaining. Just one more win from the Stars over those final three games, and they’ve sealed up the Western Conference.
Leaguewide, the New York Rangers lead the pack with 110 points and three games remaining.
Sending a Message
There’s no longer a scenario on the board in which the Canucks face the Edmonton Oilers or the Winnipeg Jets in Round One. The Oilers have sealed up second in the Pacific, and the Jets can finish no lower than third in the Central.
That being said, both are teams that is entirely possible the Canucks face later on in the playoffs, so long as they’re fortunate enough to advance themselves.
Thus, there is an opportunity here for the Canucks to “send a message” of sorts in their final regular season matchups against each team.
And those messages might be vastly different.
The Canucks have straight-up dominated the Oilers this season. Vancouver is 3-0 against them, and have outscored them to the tune of 18-6.
Beating the Oilers one more time to make it a perfect 4-0 is exactly what the Canucks want to do to ensure that they enter any prospective series with Edmonton as the definitive overdog.
The Jets, meanwhile, are the exact sort of “playoff-built” team that some folks feel the Canucks are setup to fail against. They’re 1-1 against each other this season, but the last time they faced one another, the Canucks handed the Jets a convincing 5-0 defeat.
The final game of the regular season will be the Canucks’ last chance for a good showing against another contender, and they haven’t exactly made the most of those opportunities thus far. They shouldn’t let this one slip.
Continuing Quinn Hughes’ Roll
It’s always great if teams can enter the postseason on a roll. Failing that, it’s always at least helpful to have some individuals enter the postseason on their own rolls, and that sure seems to be what Quinn Hughes is gearing up to do.
It doesn’t take much more than having watched the last few games to know that Hughes has, against all odds, taken it to yet another level. But even a stat-watcher could tell you that just fine, what with Hughes having put up nine points in five games since the calendar turned to April.
The subject of sitting players once the Canucks have secured the Pacific has been raised, and it’s probably a good idea as far as at least a couple are concerned. But perhaps it would be a good idea to not sit Hughes. When someone is rolling this much, one doesn’t really want anything to get in the way of it, and all efforts should be made to ensure that Hughes can carry this quality of play into Round One.
The Return of Thatcher Demko
If the past month of hockey has proven anything, it’s that Thatcher Demko is of utmost importance to the Vancouver Canucks and their success. He’s reportedly close to returning, and it’s literally not a moment too soon.
Most folks would have been at least a little nervous to have Demko start Game 1 after having missed several weeks of action. That it sounds as though he’ll have an opportunity to start in at least two of the remaining three regular season games, if not all three of them, takes much of that edge off.
Here, the spaced-out nature of the last stretch of schedule is actually a major advantage, as much as it’s intensified the wait for the playoffs. Demko could play Saturday, take two days off, play the Flames on Tuesday, take another day off, and then end the regular season with a good test against the Jets.
It’s almost like an in-house conditioning stint.
Figuring Out Elias Lindholm
Demko’s not the only one returning to the lineup. Elias Lindholm came back into the fold for Wednesday’s overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes and looked fine, if a little out of sorts.
But ‘fine’ won’t cut it for the Canucks’ major acquisition of the deadline period. If the Canucks are going to make some noise in the playoffs, they really need Lindholm to step it up, and that’s why these final three regular season games should be used to figure out his place in the lineup and the style of play that he’s best going to be able to bring to the table come postseason.
There’s no way to know if Lindholm is truly back to 100% health. But it doesn’t matter much at this point. He’s back on the ice, and the playoffs are nigh. It’s now or never for him to find his feet and his spot in the lineup.
Figuring Out Game 1 Lines
The Canucks have had a remarkable run of success throughout 2023/24. But one thing they haven’t landed on much success with is in nailing down their forward lines.
With just three games left on the regular season, we still have no real idea what the lines might look like for Game 1 of Round One, and that’s certainly a bit unusual in comparison to all the other teams that have already booked their tickets.
Rick Tocchet is no stranger to line-shuffling, so we can expect to see him use these three games to try out a few different combinations, all in the hopes of settling on a formula that has some chemistry going for it by April 20.
Power Play Practice
Honestly, if the Canucks don’t look at the next three games as anything other than an extended power play practice, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
The power play struggles have officially become “a thing.”
Since February 1, the Canucks have the tenth-worst power play in the NHL at just 19.1%. There have been signs of improvement here and there, but the man advantage should be a genuine advantage for a team with this much offensive talent on it.
A good run of power play goals here would do wonders for the team’s confidence with opponents in the penalty box. Just being able to settle the unit down and try out some new things might be enough to do the trick, too.
If there’s one thing that the last couple of months has done, it’s arrest all that momentum that the Canucks built up through the opening months of the regular season.
They’re not exactly running like a wagon any longer.
But momentum counts for a lot in the playoffs, and any little bit that the Canucks can build up is worthwhile.
A frustrating OT loss to the Coyotes doesn’t help. But the fact that the schedule has added a little extra emotional value to the final three games by making them a tour of Western Canadian rivals certainly helps.
There’s potential here for a valuable three-game run that really has the Canucks, and their supporters, feeling good heading into Game 1.
Or not.
That’s why we say in the headline that the Canucks have things worth playing for in these final three regular season games…but acknowledge that all those things will have to be fought for and earned.
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