The goal is simple for the Vancouver Canucks — win and clinch a playoff spot. Curtis McElhinney and the surging Anaheim Ducks are just trying to keep their postseason hopes flickering.
The Canucks try to rebound from their worst defensive performance of the season when they visit the Ducks on Friday night.
Vancouver (46-26-4) leads the Northwest Division by seven points over second-place Colorado with five games left in the regular season. The Canucks can clinch a playoff spot with a win over Anaheim (37-31-8). With a win and an Avalanche loss – Colorado plays Calgary on Friday – Vancouver can secure its second consecutive Northwest title.
The Canucks haven’t won back-to-back division crowns since 1991-92 and 1992-93, when their division was known as the Smythe.
They failed to clinch a playoff berth Thursday, giving up the first five goals en route to an 8-3 defeat at Los Angeles.
Andrew Raycroft is scheduled to get the start in net after coach Alain Vigneault opted to rest him and keep Roberto Luongo in for the entire game against the Kings despite allowing the eight goals – one shy of his career high set in 1999 – and making only 21 saves.
“It was (Luongo’s) game, and that’s what it was,” Vigneault said. “I’ve got a plan, and I’m going to stick to the plan. … You’ve got to be mentally tough, because you’re going to have nights like that.”
Raycroft’s last start was a 4-1 home win over the Ducks on March 24, when he made 30 saves. He struggled in his last game at Anaheim, though, stopping 18 of 22 shots and getting pulled after the second period of a 7-2 loss Oct. 30.
The Ducks, who have taken two of three overall matchups with Vancouver this season, seem to have solved their goaltending concerns thanks to McElhinney. Acquired March 3 from Calgary for Vesa Toskala, McElhinney has compiled a 1.67 goals-against average while starting all three games of the Ducks’ current winning streak.
Despite that run – part of a 7-2-0 stretch – the Ducks trail the Avalanche for the final playoff spot by seven points with six games remaining.
McElhinney has only made 17 starts over three NHL seasons, but has been thrust into full-time duty in Anaheim while Jonas Hiller struggles with back spasms.
“For me, this has been a lot of action compared to the last couple of years,” McElhinney told the Ducks’ official Web site. “It was usually one game and regardless of the outcome, always back to (Miikka) Kiprusoff. It was extremely tough. It could be two weeks or six weeks between games. You never know.”
McElhinney helped both the Ducks and Canucks on Wednesday, as he made 27 stops while Jason Blake matched his career high with five points in a 5-2 win at Colorado.
The Canucks could get a spark if Daniel Sedin is able to return after back spasms forced him to miss Thursday’s loss. The left wing is second on the team with 76 points in 58 games. He’s also riding a career high-tying five-game goal streak, and has four goals and six assists in his last five games against Anaheim.
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