Canucks losing grip on third

BOB MACKIN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:03 AM ET

Welcome to the home stretch.

The Vancouver Canucks play 11 of their remaining 19 games at home as their grip on third place in the Western conference loosens.

The Canucks come home to face the Phoenix Coyotes tonight (7 p.m. Team 1040/Sportsnet) after back-to-back road embarrassments. They lost 2-1 in overtime on Sunday to the Dallas Stars, then allowed the St. Louis Blues a 3-1 win on Tuesday.

Defenceman Brent Sopel returned to the Canucks after stints with the New York Islanders and the Los Angeles Kings while Bryan Smolinski lined up alongside his ex-Pittsburgh Penguins' teammate Markus Naslund. Neither was able to produce points, but Dave Nonis' pre-trading deadline acquisitions will be under the microscope tonight at General Motors Place.

The Canucks lead the Northwest division by mere percentage points, which give them third seed for now among the top eight teams in the Western conference. That makes tonight's game against Gretzky's gang of desert dogs a must-win.

The Wild visit on Sunday while the 2004 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning make a rare visit on March 6 in the final regular season matchup with an Eastern conference invader.

Scoreboard-watching will be the Canucks' favourite off-ice activity through April 8. They have only seven games left against division rivals, which means it's vital to rack up regulation wins in order to ensure a high playoff ranking.


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