Canucks face NHL bottom feeders next

The red-hot Cory Schneider is a huge reason why the Canucks are 9-2 in their last 11 games....

The red-hot Cory Schneider is a huge reason why the Canucks are 9-2 in their last 11 games. (REUTERS)

HOSEA CHEUNG, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:49 PM ET

VANCOUVER - One look at the Vancouver Canucks’ schedule over the next week and there’s certainly room for optimism.

That is if you can look past the fact that they play just three more home games before the playoffs.

On tap to start their five-game road trip is the three worst teams in the Western Conference, starting with the Calgary Flames Wednesday night. And while you’ll hear the Canucks stick with the common cliche of “there are no easy games,” it’s clearly an opportune time for them to take advantage of struggling opponents and thus picking up, at the very least, three wins on the trip.

“As a good team, you always want to beat the team you’re supposed to beat,” said goaltender Cory Schneider, who will start against Calgary. “Sometimes the teams that appear to have nothing to play for are the hardest to play against. We want to get as many points as we can and when the opportunity is there, take them. But nothing is taken for granted.”

As one of the hottest teams in the league with a 9-2 record over their last 11 games, the Canucks will then travel to Denver to face the league-worst Colorado Avalanche on Saturday before taking on the downward-trending Nashville Predators Monday. Visits to St. Louis and Dallas — two teams fighting just to get in the playoffs — close out the stretch away from home.

But the focus first is on the Flames, who gave the Canucks a good run for their money in Vancouver’s 5-2 win this past Saturday at Rogers Arena.

“We have to make sure we play the right way and get the early goal and get them out of the game quick,” Daniel Sedin said. “The longer they stick around, the more dangerous they are.”

Lately, the team has been able to do just that, especially with the Sedins stepping up. The pair have a combined nine points in the last three games — all wins — and even the woeful power play has two goals during that span.

“We like our team right now,” Daniel said. “We still find a way to win games and that says a lot about our team. We have a lot of confidence in our group.

“But the main focus for us right now is playing the right way, and we know wins are going to come.”

However, they will have to do so without forward Chris Higgins and defenceman Chris Tanev, as both are out with “lower-body” injuries and won’t be on the trip. The update on the two doesn’t sound promising either.

When asked if Higgins will be back in time for the playoffs, coach Alain Vigneault replied, “Hopefully.” Meanwhile, Tanev — who missed Monday’s game against Phoenix — is “out indefinitely” and there’s no timetable for his return.

This all comes a day after Ryan Kesler returned to the lineup after sitting 19 games with a fractured right foot, scoring the winner against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Tuesday, the Canucks centre said he just felt general soreness that was “nothing out of the ordinary.”

“I’m not going to hold anything back out there,” he said. “The adrenaline was going last game, so hopefully I can play better than last game.”

Vezina talk?

If you consider how banged up the Canucks offence is of late and their overall record, it speaks volumes of how valuable Schneider has been. And with the way he’s played recently — with four shutouts in his last 11 starts — it’s no surprise then that the goaltender’s name is now being bandied about as a possible Vezina Trophy candidate.

Schneider just shrugged it off when asked about it.

“There’s so many great goalies this year in the league,” he said. “It’s one of those years where guys who get hot for 20, 30 games have a chance to win it but it’s something I haven’t put a lot of thought in. There’s still a lot of hockey left, a lot can change, and it’s just a testament to the way we’ve played as a group and as a unit. It’s still early.”

As of Tuesday, Schneider is tied with Boston Bruins’ Tuuka Rask for first in save percentage (.928) among goalies with 20 games or more, and is also atop the rankings for most shutouts with five.

With the team looking to lock up the Northwest Division, there may not be anytime for him to take a break down the stretch drive.

“If there’s a chance to get a rest, it’s up to the coach to decide,” he said.


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