The NHL's last-place team might not be an authority on winning, but the Edmonton Oilers have seen enough of the Vancouver Canucks to know this: They're good.
Maybe better than any team that's beaten them this year.
Stanley Cup good.
"I think this is an outstanding hockey team," said Edmonton head coach Tom Renney. "They've built an identity, they've built a way that they have to play and the players are completely into that.
"The Sedins are superior players ó they've had very, very good goaltending from the get-go from two people. This could be the team and this could be the year."
That's what a lot of people are thinking, and that's why the Canucks have spent all season, and will enter the playoffs, with a target on their back.
"It's been like that pretty much all season long. We've kind of been building something the last couple of years and we got ourselves to that position where we're at the top of our division," said Kevin Bieksa, who watched teams treat a date with Vancouver like it was their own personal Game 7. "Teams get up for us. That's one thing we learned early, teams are approaching these as big games,. If we don't and we're not as hungry as them, we're not going to beat many teams.
"There are obviously high expectations in the city and that's the way you want it. There are equally high expectations in the dressing room."
Unlike, say the Detroit Red Wings, the Canucks are operating in an uneasy purgatory — they're forced to shoulder the expectations of a championship team without ever having won a championship.
"We've been dealing with that the whole season," said Ryan Kesler. "People picked us to win the league, we did. That's the bottom line. We've dealt with adversity; we haven't played with a healthy lineup at all this year and we still find a way to win games, a lot of games."
Losing to Edmonton last Saturday was a much-needed slap of reality: If Vancouver at 80% can't beat the Oilers, they had better bring everything they've got to the playoffs.
"I hope that we don't have that type of effort in the playoffs," said Bieksa. "It puts us back in our place. Unless we're playing our best game we're not going to beat many teams. We have to realize that."
This is a team that had 100 or more points in each of the last two years and bowed out in the first round. Critics are waiting to slap a choke label on them — San Jose North, if you will — if they stumble again.
"It's fine," said Daniel Sedin. "If you're well prepared and confident going in, pressure is going to be good. If you're not well-prepared, that's when pressure can get to you. That's been our goal the whole year, to become as prepared as we can. We're more than ready for the playoffs."