Canucks ready for stretch drive

HOSEA CHEUNG, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

It's a league-wide notion that the stretch drive is the toughest challenge for teams heading into the playoffs, but for the Canucks, it may turn out to be much easier then seasons past.

One look at Vancouver's remaining schedule and it's hard not to be more optimistic.

The Canucks have 26 games remaining, including tonight against the Calgary Flames. Nine of those matchups are against Northwest division rivals, with four being conference bottom feeder Colorado.

Top Western teams Chicago and San Jose will only face the Canucks once more, while Northwest leader Calgary will battle them only twice. Those are the hard games.

The lesser ones are aplenty. Eighteen of Vancouver's remaining matches are against opponents who are below them in the standings prior to Monday night, while the other four games are against struggling Eastern teams.

But then again, there are no easy games, according to Shane O'Brien.

"It's cliche that we have to focus one game at a time but that's the way you got to do it," said the blueliner. "We just got to find a way to get as many points as we can and get ourselves in good position."

On one hand, teams below Vancouver in the standings might be tougher to play against since they too are fighting for a playoff spot, but on the other, it's a good opportunity to pull further ahead of those lagging behind.

Whatever the case, Vancouver will need to take advantage of the schedule and put together a solid win streak in order to earn a first- round appearance.

"Every game is going to be so important here on in," said Taylor Pyatt. "We have to put together a great stretch here."

Last season, the eighth place team in the West - Nashville - needed 91 points to make the playoffs, the year before, Calgary needed 96, and prior to that, it was Edmonton with 95.

So an average of about 94 points is seemingly the norm to sneak into the postseason. Do the math.

Before last night, the Canucks were fifth with 62 points, meaning that they would need 17 wins the rest of the way to reach 96 points overall. That's .650 hockey down the stretch.

Although that overall point requirement might be lower this time around since the race for the final spot is much closer - going into last night's games, nine teams in the West were currently separated by only seven points - Vancouver must strive for perfection.

"We have to beat the teams that are tied with us, ahead of us, and behind us," said O'Brien. "We have to beat everyone."

Good mindset, because in the end the opponents won't matter, the results will.

FACT BOX (before last night)

- Home: 12 Away: 14

- Against bottom three in West: 7 games

- Against top Four in West: 4 games

- Against teams within 6 points: 11 games

- Against non-playoff teams: 17 games


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