The NHL’s Western Conference is unbelievably tight right now.
The top two spots in the Central Division, occupied by the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators, are separated by 1 point. The Pacific Division is also extremely tight as the Calgary Flames are just two points behind the San Jose Sharks.
Where it gets really interesting is the second half of the Conference. Right now, both the Minnesota Wild (57 points) and St. Louis Blues (55 points) hold the two Wild Card spots.
After those two clubs, there are several times that are right behind them and within striking distance. One such team is the Vancouver Canucks, a team that has not made the playoffs in several years.
As of this writing, the Canucks are tied with the Blues for the second Wild Card spot with 55 points. They are only playing .500 hockey (24-24-7), but given the way the West has been this season, that is more than good enough to be looking at a playoff spot come April.
There are a few reasons why the Canucks are still in the playoff hunt in the West. For starters, the two teams in front of them have not been great this year.
The Wild are currently 26-23-5 and are dealing with a few key injuries. They have not played well as of late and if that continues, they could fall out of their Wild Card spot and be forced to win a ton of hockey games down the stretch.
The Blues, who are currently playing extremely well, are tied with the Canucks because they got off to such a slow start. Again, they are playing well right now, but that can quickly change.
The Canucks are also one of the hardest working teams in the league. They win a lot of puck battles, they are not afraid to play a physical brand of hockey, they are competitive in a lot of the games they play and they never give up.
This team has also worked hard on their defensive game. As of this writing, the Canucks are 13th in the league in goals allowed as they have given up just over three goals per game.
Part of that reason is that the team’s goaltenders have played better than in seasons’ past. Starter Jacob Markstrom is currently 20-15-6 with a 2.81 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.
The club’s current back-up, 23-year-old Thatcher Demko has only played one game but was terrific in it. He stopped 36 of 39 shots in a victory over the Buffalo Sabres back on January 18.
Lastly, Travis Green continues to show that he is a good head coach in this league and the perfect one for the Canucks. Green knows how to work with young players and he preaches a system that allows for the Canucks to play smart and careless hockey, for the most part.
There is still well over a month of hockey left to be played and with the West being what it is, there is a chance that the Canucks could find a way to sneak into the postseason. All the team has to do to make that happen is to stay afloat and stay in the hunt.