Canucks' playoff hopes get boost from recent winning streak
Club gains confidence after closing 2019 with 5 straight wins
A five-game winning streak to end 2019 has boasted the Vancouver Canucks hopes for making a playoff appearance in the spring of 2020.
"Confidence is like a wave," forward Antoine Roussel said. "You get on it and you want to ride it as much as possible. Right now, we have to ask ourselves what are the things we are doing good and narrow those things down, put them in place for the next game, then the next game."
The Canucks will take a 21-15-4 record into Thursday night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Rogers Arena. Their 46 points leaves third in the Pacific Division and seventh in the Western Conference, tied with Edmonton.
Just two few weeks ago the Canucks seem headed in the wrong direction. A 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens was their third consecutive loss and fourth in five games. After beginning December in a playoff spot, Vancouver had sunk to 11th in the Western Conference and were four points back of Calgary for the final wild card spot in the West.
The current streak is the longest winning spree since Vancouver won six consecutive games between Dec. 28, 2016, and Jan. 6, 2017. The doubts creeping into the Canuck dressing room have been replaced by a sense of optimism.
"When you win hockey games it's easy to come to the rink, it's easy to work hard," said goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who has a 13-11-3 record, a 2.63 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. "The coaching staff and everybody around the team is in a better mood.
"We are winning hockey games now. We felt we were just a little bit off, that's all it takes to lose games. We cleaned up the small details."
Several factors have contributed to the Canucks revival.
They have received outstanding goaltending from Markstrom, who played in four of the wins. He made an eye-popping 49 saves in Vancouver's 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings Saturday.
The Canucks, a team that struggled to score in past years, are getting across-the-board production with six players having scored 10 or more goals.
Elias Pettersson, last year's top rookie, leads Vancouver with 18 goals and 41 points. He has four goals and two assists in the last five games. Defenceman Tyler Myers had two goals and an assist in Sunday's 5-2 win over Calgary.
Forwards Brock Boeser (one goal, five assists), Jake Virtanen (3-3), Tanner Pearson (3-3) and J.T. Miller (2-1) have also contributed during the streak.
Defenceman Quinn Hughes, who has three goals and 25 assists, is third in rookie scoring.
Vancouver's special teams have also stepped up. The Canucks have scored six goals on 18 power-play attempts in the last five games. Their penalty kill has allowed just two goals on 15 man-advantages.
WATCH | Myers leads Canucks to fifth straight win
So far this season 11 Canucks have scored a power-play goal and the Vancouver power play is ranked fourth in the league at 26.4 per cent.
At the start of the season the Canucks were guilty of giving up too many opening goals. They also had trouble playing with the lead, allowing opponents to get back into games.
"Earlier in the year . . . when we were up, we kind of let our foot off the gas pedal," said Pearson, who has 11 goals and 16 assists. "In a league like this, that's a dangerous thing to do. It bit us on the butt a couple of times.
"We're getting more confidence playing with the lead. It's showing at the end of the game."
Captain Bo Horvat said the Canucks haven't changed how they play. They are just doing things better.
"We're sticking to the process," he said. "We're not getting away from our game, we're not trying to cheat for offence. We're playing the right way now."
Vancouver has missed the playoffs four years in a row and five times in the last six. Head coach Travis Green likes the direction his team is heading but cautioned a long road stretches ahead.
"Nothing has changed from what we talked about [before] game one," said Green. "Nothing has changed since we were losing three games. We hadn't done anything then. We haven't done anything yet.
"I like the path we are on. We just need to keep pushing the bar higher and higher."
The Canucks are trending in the right direction but Markstrom said the team can't become too comfortable.
"We won some games, but we've got to keep playing good and we have to improve our game," he said.
"It can change so quick. Up and downs are part of it. You have to make sure your ups are longer than your downs."