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Vancouver Clinches Playoff Spot

The Vancouver Canucks have FINALLY clinched their playoff spot. Sighs of happiness were heard all over VanCity when the Canucks held off the Ducks. Winning 5-4 in a shootout wasn’t exactly the way they had pictured it, but they’re in. After a disappointing loss of 8-2 in Los Angeles the Canucks benched Roberto Luongo and chose to go with back-up Andrew Raycroft who helped them get the W.

The Canucks have been leading the Northwest Division for practically the entire year, so why did it take so long to clinch their playoff spot? Statistically speaking there are three teams with better records than the Canucks (Sharks, Hawks, and Yotes) and with the remainder of the Western Conference being as tight as it was there happened to be a one in a billion chance that the Canucks wouldn’t make the playoffs. So with odds like that, why the delay in clinching a spot? Because in hockey, that one in a billion statistic likelihood is more likely than you think. IF the Canucks had lost last night and every other game they had the slim chance of not making it. For that to happen the stars would have to align and either the Flames or Avalanche would have to win almost every single one of their games. In addition, teams around the Conference would have to win and lose specific games. While that seems like a stretch, if a team gets hot (i.e Red Wings, Capitals, Ducks, Coyotes) the last five games could all be W’s. If a team is squeezing their sticks and struggling to find the two points necessary to advance (i.e. Avalanche) then it would not have happened.

Moving forward what do the Canucks need to focus on to stay in the running now that they’ve clinched their spot? Here’s their number one strength and their number one weakness.

Keep those Sedin twins healthy.  Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin remind most of the hockey world of the Weasley twins with their hair but that’s not the only thing ‘magical’ about the twins. There is a high level of respect for their playing ability for a good reason. The Sedins not only function well together, but they are strong players when one half of the equation is missing.  Maybe it’s because they’re twins and have ESP, or it could be because they’re extremely close, and even because they’ve played with each other for their entire lives, but they know where the other is on the ice at all times. Their passing, follow through, shooting is so fluid, so intuitive; everything they do is on the same page. The difficulty in playing against them stems from the fact that it’s like playing two bodies, sharing one mind. Trying to double team one or both leaves the other twin or their linemate wide open. This is Vancouver’s greatest weapon.

While he may have ‘won’ a Gold Medal with Canada, Roberto Luongo has not been playing like he deserved it, before during or after the Olympics. Riding the bench after his embarrassing losses to Los Angeles (8-2) and Edmonton (3-2). What makes these L’s so bad?  For LA it’s the score, the Kings are good, the Canucks respect that. But to allow six even strength goals and two power play goals when the team is fighting for its playoff spot? Well, that is not inspiring. What about the Oilers? Well with the worst possible record in the entire league, watching Luongo struggle against the Oilers highlighted what Olympic viewers already knew, Luo is the weakest link.

Luongo at Olympics:
My co-hort Sara argues that Luongo helped Team Canada win the Gold. I disagree, whole-heartedly. While good old, the key word here being OLD, Martin Brodeur had a disappointing showing in the first USA v Canada showdown, one might argue that Luongo stepped in and helped the Canadians win. That would be somewhat correct, but the change in Team Canada wasn’t purely Luongo driven. Being forced into a ‘must-win’ situation made those leaders on Team Canada dig deep. With so many leaders (i.e. Captains) on the team, each one stepped up when they were needed. Maybe Sidney Crosby wasn’t as visible during the games against Germany, Russia, and the Czechs, but he stepped up when the pressure was on in the shoot-out versus Jonas Hiller and the game winning goal against Ryan Miller. Or how about the Sharks’ line of Marleau, Heatley and Thornton? Playing the most since their chemistry was already developed, they contributed consistently throughout.  Jonathan Toews showed the world just why they should know his name and follow the Blackhawks with his eight points throughout the tournament. What exactly did Luongo do? In the game against Germany and Russia, there wasn’t much he could have done to mess it up. In the game against the Czechs he almost cost them the game when he left the net empty but his opponent failed to capitalize. Luongo left them just as vulnerable as Brodeur had, but he still played in the Gold Medal Game. During the game it was the offense and defense that were working hard, keeping the puck away from him as much as possible. When he did touch it he seemed to lack a confidence that you’d expect from an Olympian. While there was a breakdown in defense on the second goal, and few could have stopped the first goal Zach Parise lasered through, his performance lacked anything spectacular or noteworthy.

What it Means for Playoffs:
While Luongo didn’t choke during the Olympics, he didn’t stand on his head either.  His performance was lacking and he barely skated by with the W. Prior to the Olympics any big game he’s played in he’s been less than spectacular, in fact he’s been downright shaky. While the Canucks are blessed with offensive power, goaltending is supposed to be the backbone of the team. With Luongo as that backbone, it doesn’t bode well unless he can get hot.

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