After practice on Wednesday, after Tuesday’s nights 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers, Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said it best.
“We’re gonna definitely know where we are after the seven games,” Boudreau said. “Because the seventh game is at home against St. Louis too, and I think they’re one of the elite teams in the league.”
The sixth game, the first at home after the Canucks five-game trip, is a rematch against the Panthers.
“These seven games are going to say whether we’ve got a chance to do something serious here, or whether we’re gonna have to fight and claw and put together another eight to ten-game win streak just to make the playoffs,” he added.
Thursday night the Canucks face the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, Saturday they’re in Carolina to take on a Hurricanes team that has the best winning percentage in the NHL, the very next day they’re in Washington to battle the 20-8-and-9 Capitals, and the Central Division leading Nashville Predators are sitting on the schedule next Tuesday.
It’s a potential season make-or-break reality, as Boudreau alludes.
Another reality, an unfortunate one, was having to play Tuesday night’s game after ten days off. The Panthers are on a roll and were in mid-season form. The Canucks came in cold. There is no choice but to pick up the pieces, learn, and move on to the next grandiose challenge. It started with practice on Wednesday.
“It was more of a teaching practice,” Boudreau said, “I mean, we worked on some things that we definitely didn’t do well last night. Probably the video session was more telling than anything. We went over an awful lot of the mistakes that we can’t make against good teams, and we did them last night. We pretty much did them all. But it’s not a question of sitting here and having a skate for an hour-and-twenty-minutes and making them work hard, we have to get better.”
The next four games for the Canucks unfold over six nights.
Imagine what the team would have looked like had they been able to play that one home game against Ottawa on Saturday. Less rust to say the least. But that’s hindsight. On to Tampa.
“We know what we’re up against, we know how good they are, and we know we didn’t play great last night, so we know we’re gonna have to put our best foot forward against a really good team and we will act accordingly,” Boudreau said.
Canucks forward JT Miller played for Tampa Bay the two seasons prior to their first Cup campaign.
“Everybody on a really good team has a role,” Miller said, “as you can see the last couple of years, the best team in the league, super well coached, some of the best forwards, defencemen, and goaltenders in the league. I learned a lot. You know you have to buy into what you’re asked to do. When a good team plays the right way they give themselves a chance to win every game and obviously they’ve done a good job of that.”
The Lightning are tied with the Panthers atop the Atlantic Division with 53 points, the most in the entire NHL.
“Good teams do everything well,” Miller said. “They don’t just put the puck in the net. When you get older you realize there’s so much more to winning than scoring goals and head-to-toe you have guys that buy in to play the right way every night, not just sometimes, and do it consistently.”
The Vancouver Canucks fell back to a .500 record with Tuesday’s loss, now at 16-16-and-3. Their 35 points puts them in seventh place in the Pacific Division, six points out of a Western Conference wild card spot and six points behind third place in the division. The Canucks have a number of games in-hand on the three division leaders, now it’s just a matter of how they use them.