Can the Canucks actually pull this off? Playoff spot now within reach

Mar 16 2022, 8:12 pm

Against all odds, the Vancouver Canucks are in a playoff race.


Nobody saw this coming on December 5, when Jim Benning and Travis Green were fired — just one day after a fan threw a jersey on the ice in protest at Rogers Arena.

At that moment, the Canucks were 29th in the overall standings by points percentage, sitting with a woeful 8-15-2 record after 25 games. They would need to go on an epic run, playing better than .600 hockey just to have a chance at a playoff spot.

It seemed unlikely. Bruce Boudreau didn’t even want to talk about the playoffs when he was first hired, choosing instead to get his team focusing on “winning the week.”

Winning the week turned into sweeping the week, and suddenly the Bruce bump had the Canucks on a seven-game winning streak.

It seemed like a blip.

The Canucks appeared to come down to Earth after losing three straight to Florida, Tampa Bay, and Carolina in January. Or certainly, after they were humbled 6-3 by the Islanders, 7-4 by the Ducks, and 7-2 by the Devils in February.

Thatcher Demko could only do so much.

But all of a sudden, the Canucks are streaking again, and they’re doing it without Vezina-level goaltending every night. They’re 4-1-1 since the 7-2 loss in New Jersey on February 28, with each of their wins coming in games that Vancouver gave up more than three goals.

After 36 games — nearly half a season, the Canucks have the eighth-best points percentage in the NHL. Forget .600 hockey; the Canucks are closer to a .700 hockey team in the Boudreau era.

That puts them alongside many of the league’s elite teams during that time span.

Can it last? It seems unlikely with their defence.

It’s hard to fathom, given how poor they looked in October and November, not to mention all of last season.

But with the way J.T. Miller is playing? He’s on one of the longest points streaks in Canucks history and is now tied for sixth in NHL scoring.

With Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson finding their form recently, suddenly Vancouver has an incredible 1-2-3 punch up the middle.

The new coaching staff has been able to turn around the Canucks’ special teams, which were crippling under Green. The Canucks have the eighth-best power-play percentage (24.5%) since Boudreau took over and are 20th on the penalty kill (76.9%).

The Canucks have also become a much more difficult team to play five-on-five, helped by a suddenly tenacious forecheck.

“Forechecking is a fun part of the game,” Boudreau said after Vancouver’s win against Montreal on March 9. “They’re doing well at it, and we’ve seen the results. We’ve shown a lot of videos of the positive stuff when we do the right forecheck. We’re creating opportunities in the other team’s zone. And they’re scoring goals because of the forecheck. They’re all buying into it, so it’s a good thing.”

Miller agreed that the more aggressive forecheck helps energize the forwards.

“It makes me feel accountable towards myself,” Miller added last week. “When I look over to [Boeser] and [Pearson] flying up the ice, I know that I’ve got to get up the ice too. When you’re skating, you’re more involved, and I know that it fits my game best when we’re skating.”

Perhaps that also explains why the speedy checking trio of Tyler Motte, Juho Lammikko, and Matthew Highmore have been so effective under Boudreau.

At this point, it’s clear the Canucks aren’t as bad as their record under Green — but are they really as good as they’ve been under Boudreau?

Maybe not, but try telling that to the Canucks. They just keep winning.

Vancouver is now flirting with the playoff bar, sitting just one point behind the Vegas Golden Knights, with one game in hand. By points percentage, they’re really chasing the Dallas Stars — tied in points, but Dallas has three games in hand.

And there’s still a quarter of a season left to play.

With 21 games to go, there’s still plenty of work to do. They’re still long shots to make it, but it will no longer take a miracle for the Canucks to make the playoffs from this point forward.’s playoff prediction model now gives the Canucks a 22% shot to make the postseason.

Dom Luszczyszyn’s model at The Athletic now projects the Canucks to be a 90-point team. That’s not far off what they’ll need to be in a playoff spot at the end of the season.

It remains to be seen how this run of success changes the Canucks’ new management team’s approach to Monday’s trade deadline, but it seems hard to believe they would rip their roster apart now.

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