• Can Canucks use win as rallying point?
• Daniel Sedin breaks out of slump
• Ryan Miller comes up big
Just when it looked like their season might be heading toward the precipice, the Vancouver Canucks did it again: they defied expectations.
Facing the highly favoured Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Thursday, and with a number of key players slumping, the Canucks broke their four-game losing streak with a decisive 3–0 win.
The score line was especially surprising: Vancouver entered the game ranked 28th in the league in goals per game at 2.28, while Columbus ranked fifth at 3.29.
Here are five takeaways from the game.
Canucks fans can dare to dream
If the Canucks go on to make a playoff push this season, this might be the game we look back on as the turning point. Now five points back of the second wild-card spot, Vancouver realistically needs to win at least half of the games on their current road trip just to stay in the playoff conversation. That remains a very tall order—though few would have expected a blowout over the Blue Jackets on Thursday night.
With four games remaining before they return to Rogers Arena—versus Boston, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and St. Louis—the Canucks will need a string of wins to build their playoff odds to a more respectable level. Consensus currently has them below the 10 per cent mark.
The slump is over
Just 44 seconds into the second period, Daniel Sedin scored what would prove to be the winning goal, with assists from new line mate Markus Granlund and brother Henrik.
Sedin had not scored a goal in nine straight games (he’d managed four assists in that span). He now has 12 goals through 54 games this season, and with the assist he picked up on Loui Eriksson’s power-play goal in the second period, Daniel’s NHL career points total sits at 972.
"We needed to turn things around. To do that, you need your goalie to be good," he said after the win, crediting Ryan Miller for being the real difference-maker.
What power-play struggle?
After weeks of facing questions about their struggles with the man advantage, the Canucks now have power-play goals in three straight games, notching one goal in each game across seven opportunities for a power-play percentage of 42.9 per cent (in an admittedly small sample size).
Eriksson scored on the power play for the first time since December, having finally—finally!—been moved to the top power-play line alongside the Sedins (who each registered assists on the goal).
And while it won’t show up as a power-play goal on the scoresheet, Jayson Megna’s third-period tally came just two seconds after time expired on Vancouver’s only other power play on the night.
Boucher gets his shot
Reid Boucher made just his second appearance in a Canucks sweater on Thursday, slotting in on the fourth line and seeing 7:10 minutes of ice time.
Boucher, who was claimed off waivers from the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 4, mostly made an impression in the first period when he had the Canucks’ best scoring chance of the frame, taking a point-blank, blocker-side shot after Jack Skille deflected a Columbus clearing attempt.
Before the game, the 23-year-old, who has been working on his conditioning, admitted that sitting out and waiting for his chance at game action has been difficult.
"Yeah, it’s a little frustrating," he told reporters. "But I’ve had positive talks with coaching staff and just trying to work hard in practice and be ready when you do get a chance."
If the Canucks make the playoffs, Ryan Miller might be the reason why
After going 0-4-0 in his last four starts, Miller stopped all 33 shots he faced on Thursday night for his third shutout of the season and the 39th of his career.
Prior to losing four straight, Miller had gone 7-0-2 in nine starts, and he showed similar form on Thursday, improving his road record to 3-8-2. Miller has struggled this season outside of Rogers Arena, but if he’s able to return to his recent form and maintain it through this road trip, he’s more than capable of stealing some much-needed wins down the stretch.
…and if they look like they won’t, Ryan Miller may not close out the season as a Canuck
Miller put on a showcase versus Columbus, and the timing couldn’t be better with the trade deadline less than three weeks away. If the Canucks fail to make enough of a push to put themselves in playoff contention before March 1, GM Jim Benning will face significant pressure to make the most of Miller’s sparkling play via trade.
And Miller isn’t the only player Benning may look to move: Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen could be valuable additions to teams stocking up for a playoff push. Burrows has a no-trade clause, while Hansen has a modified NTC, but never say never.
Before any of these decisions can be made, though, the Canucks head to Boston to face the Bruins on Saturday afternoon. Whatever happens in the last four road games of this gruelling trip should give fans a clearer picture of their team’s fate.