The Week Ahead: A Northwest Division farewell tour

Every Wednesday we take a look at The Week Ahead to see what storylines we’ll be following, because Wednesday is a day meant for looking ahead to the future. Around here we call Wednesday “Future Day” and we all wear silver jumpsuits and big bubble space helmets. Doesn’t everybody do that?

This week, it’s the end of the season and the Canucks face a trio of former Northwest Division opponents.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Calgary Flames, March 8, 2014

The last time the Canucks played the Flames, the game was marred by a linebrawl off the opening faceoff, a crazed John Tortorella attempting to bull rush his way into the Flames locker room during the first intermission, and a total of 188 penalty minutes.

For a moment, it looked like this game might start the same way, as Tom Sestito and Brian McGrattan lined up opposite each other for the opening faceoff and had words. Fortunately, those words appeared to be, “Good day to you, sir” and “God be with ye,” because the two players separated and did a novel thing: they played hockey. Imagine that.

I watched hockey players playing hockey when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Calgary Flames, January 18, 2014

Like the Arcade Fire without their lead vocalist, the Vancouver Canucks came into this game in desperate need of a win. Fortunately, through 48 games, the Calgary Flames are practically a dispensary of wins. You don’t even need a prescription. Their wins are over the counter, like weak codeine products.

The Canucks got what they came for too, although it wasn’t quite as easy as all that. This game was tense. Heck, it was, like the verb “was” itself, past tense. And speaking of proper tense usage, I did not watch this game — I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Calgary Flames, December 29, 2013

Like Johnny Galecki, the Canucks were a little rusty. The week-long break between games didn’t do the Canucks any favours, as they struggled to dispatch the lowly Flames. Don’t get me wrong, they were never in danger of losing this game, generally dominated puck possession, and were clearly the better team, but they couldn’t get the puck past the mediocre Reto Berra more than twice.

Frankly, this game had no business being as close as it was: the Canucks out-shot the Flames 30-to-18 and were about as smothering as a helicopter parent in the defensive zone, while Lack was perfect in his first game as the number one goaltender with Roberto Luongo injured. Aside from a strong push at the beginning of the third period, the Flames never looked competitive with the Canucks, which is why a 2-0 win is so underwhelming.

That said, the Canucks didn’t get sucked into playing down to the level of an inferior opponent and came away with a win, so it was still relatively satisfying when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Calgary Flames, October 6, 2013

With the Canucks playing their first of 17 (!!!) back-to-backs Sunday night in Calgary, John Tortorella turned, as many coaches do in such situations, to his backup netminder. That meant a couple of firsts for Eddie Lack. His start was the first of any rookie netminder this season, and more importantly, it was also his first ever NHL start. Granted, after hearing Calgary’s in-arena announcer introduce the Scotiabank Saddledome to their 2013-14 Calgary Flames (Ben Street! Lance Bouma! Joe Colborne!), you can understand why it might not have felt like an NHL start.

Fortunately, the Canucks are a tight-knit group. Sensing Lack’s skepticism over the NHL-ness of the Flames’ roster, Henrik, Daniel and the gang committed themselves to making the Flames seem like a truly formidable foe, even placing the outcome of the game entirely in Lack’s hands, and all for his benefit. After two periods of well-meaning listlessness, once they certain Lack would cherish his first start forever, they stormed back and won it for him. It was sweet to see, and I did see, because I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Calgary Flames, April 10, 2013

In the Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s classic bout, the Rumble in the Jungle, Ali famously used what came to be called the rope-a-dope strategy. Early in the fight, he provoked Foreman into an all-out attack, but absorbed the blows by leaning against the ropes, allowing their elasticity to distribute the kinetic energy. Once Foreman had tired himself out and began making mistakes, Ali pressed the counter-attack and ended up winning the fight by knockout in the eighth round.

Against the Flames, the Canucks seemed to employ a similar rope-a-dope strategy. In this case, Roberto Luongo was the rope and the Flames were the dopes, as the Canucks coasted through much of the game before seeming to flip a switch in the third period, capitalizing on the Flames’ errors, and scoring three quick goals to win the game.

Unlike the Rumble in the Jungle, this game won’t go down in history as one of the greatest sporting events of all time. Even still, I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Calgary Flames, April 6, 2013

There are two ways for Canuck fans to look at this game: on the one hand, you could be upset with the way the Canucks played, which would be fair since they didn’t play well. They were sloppy from top to bottom, making lazy, easily intercepted outlet passes, surrendering prime scoring chances, and forcing Cory Schneider into a virtuoso performance to preserve the victory.

On the other hand, they still won, and handily. Why? Beecause, as bad as they were, they still weren’t worse than the Calgary Flames on a good night. It’s tougher to be upset with Vancouver when Calgary exists to remind you that it could be much, much worse. With that thought hanging in the back of my mind, I was extremely content when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Calgary Flames, March 3, 2013

Unbeknownst to most, Jannik Hansen is actually a wicked sorcerer, one of the oldest and most powerful in Denmark. He’s kept his magic hidden for seven centuries, quietly escaping the Warlock Hunters of the Jutland Peninsula by assuming the form of a hockey player and coming to North America, but Saturday night, he had occasion to dust off the ol’ witchcraft. Sensing that his wife was about to go into labour, Hansen conjured a powerful storm that would ground the Canucks for 15 hours, giving him enough time to be present for the birth of his twin sons before heading over to Calgary.

But Hansen knew that the team would be thrown awry by the odd travel schedule, so he used a second spell to give himself an in-game boost and propel his team to a victory.

He registered two points through the magic, but then, unfortunately, his magic ran out early. You see, playing a full hockey game, becoming a first-time father, and manipulating the dark arts to summon inclement weather a province away tends to wear a sorcerer out, and by the time the third period of this one rolled around, Hansen’s tank was on empty. Sadly, he could do little but watch as the rest of his team ran out of gas as well, and the Flames pulled ahead for good. Same goes for me — not because I’m a weary sorcerer, but because I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Calgary Flames, February 9, 2013

The Canucks came into this game riding a 4-game win streak. The Flames came into this game playing, well, the way the Calgary Flames play nowadays. They’re simply not a good team anymore, and they’re especially not a good team when their centre depth is so depleted by injuries that their first-line centre is their first-line winger.

Of course, the worst injury the Flames are dealing with is in goal. Miikka Kiprusoff is out with a lower-body issue, so Leland Irving was in with a full body issue, the issue being that his body doesn’t get hit by pucks as often as Kiprusoff’s. The Canucks were able to use that to their advantage, putting 5 unanswered goals past Irving in the final two periods. Not unanswered, however, is the question of whether or not I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs. Calgary Flames, January 23, 2013

The Canucks really needed this win. It wasn’t just that they were 0-1-1 heading into it. It was much worse than that. As a colleague who will remain nameless because I’m about to make fun of him pointed out to me, they weren’t just winless in their first two. They were 1-4-2 in their last seven, dating back to last postseason. Ah, but I pointed out to him that if we’re just going to trace the Canucks’ record back to arbitrary dates, we should point out that they’re actually 52-26-11 dating back to the beginning of last season. Perhaps, my colleague responded, but they’re a mediocre 1353-1455-391-83 dating back to the beginning of the franchise.

That’s almost 100 games under five hundred. You can see how badly they needed this win. Sure, it’s a big hole to crawl out of, but you’ve got to take these things one game at a time. Tonight was one such game, and I watched this game.

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Five dates on the Canucks’ 2012-13 schedule that will probably be really lame

The Vancouver Canucks’ 2012-13 schedule was released Thursday, and you know what? It’s not half-bad. Mike Gillis even went so far as to call the entire thing “travel-friendly” on the radio Wednesday, and he’s right, at least compared to previous years. The longest road trips are only five games and they’re both out of the way by the end of November. The Canucks only makes 3 trips out East the entire year, they don’t visit Florida, and the trips don’t have them darting all over the globe, willy-nilly, like they’re tracking Carmen Sandiego.

As for the games of note, well, there’s a Saturday night tilt with Boston on the 29th of December that will probably be a lot of fun, although the Canucks conspicuously omitted this one on their list of dates to remember. (This is easy to explain. When Mike Gillis blamed some of the Canucks’ struggles in the back half of the season on emotional exhaustion from last season’s Boston game, the marketing department effectively forfeited the right to make a big deal of this year’s at all. They’d be defenestrated for that.) We’ll probably all enjoy the visit from the Maple Leafs two Saturdays prior, especially if acquire Roberto Luongo some time between them and now, and tilts with the Blackhawks and Red Wings will be as enjoyable as ever.

But let’s not talk about the games we know will be good. Someone else will do that. Instead, let’s take a look at the games I’m pretty sure are going to suck. Here are five that project to be exceedingly lame.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Calgary Flames, April 5, 2012

With the New York Rangers’ loss in Pittsburgh, the Canucks found themselves in a position to take a stranglehold on the Presidents’ Trophy race with a single point. And, after the second period ended with the boys in blue up one, it looked like they had it in the bag. The last time this team failed to collect at least one point when leading after two periods was in October of 2009.

But the Canucks let the cat out of the bag, allowing three third-period goals and watching their stranglehold evaporate. On the bright side, what were the Canucks doing trying to strangle a cat in a bag? How incredibly inhumane. Gosh, thank goodness the Canucks blew this lead. I’d hate for them to be responsible for the death of a cat. I love cats. I watched this game.

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The Canucks need a strong Northwest Division

Technically, the Colorado Avalanche are still in playoff contention, but their chances are slimmer than a Slim Jim. They currently sit in 10th place, 2 points out of the playoffs, with only two games remaining on their schedule. All four teams ahead of them that they could conceivably catch have three games left. It doesn’t help that all three games the San Jose Sharks have remaining are against other teams battling for those same playoff spots, guaranteeing that the Avalanche will have even more ground to make up.

If the Avalanche fail to make the playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks will be the only team from the Northwest Division in the postseason for the second straight year. The competitive imbalance in the Northwest isn’t good for the team or the fans.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Calgary Flames, March 31, 2012

If the Canucks had been struggling to find motivation late in this season, there was plenty to be had in Saturday night’s date with the Calgary Flames. First, a victory would allow them to leapfrog the St. Louis Blues and take over sole possession of 1st place in the Western Conference. Second, a victory would officially eliminate the Flames — who objectively suck — from postseason contention. Third, Andrew Ebbett was back. Andrew Ebbett! That dude looks like Chris Martin from Coldplay. How can you not be motivated by that?

Sure enough, the Canucks rode the wave of motivation to a victory, jumping into 1st in the West, banishing the Flames to the irrelevance from whence they came, and letting Andrew Ebbett lead them to victory, like Moses (if Moses looked like Chris Martin from Coldplay). Also, a fourth important thing happened: I watched this game.

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Anti-climax: Canucks clinch Northwest Division

With all the fussing over the Canucks’ quality of play recently, it’s easy to forget that they have a 12 point-lead in the Northwest Division. There was essentially no chance that they could lose the division and were essentially guaranteed to have home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Well, you can now remove the word “essentially” from that sentence above and move the whole thing into the present tense. The Canucks have officially clinched the Northwest Division in the most anti-climactic way possible.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Calgary Flames, February 11, 2012

Going into this game, the Canucks hadn’t lost in regulation in 8 games and had gone to overtime in 5 of their last 6 games. According to their record over their last 10 games, the Canucks were the hottest team in the NHL. According to anyone who actually watched those games, the Canucks were playing some of their worst hockey of the season.

Hey, I watched those games. Then I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Calgary Flames, December 23, 2011

I didn’t just watch this game, I was at this game, as my older brother took me to a game as a sort of early Christmas present. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with a gift receipt.

The Canucks played this game like anyone else with one last shift at work before Christmas: they showed up late and mailed it in. The Flames, on the other hand, showed up in Vancouver with the work ethic of Dwight Schrute and dominated. I had to suffer the ignominy of seeing the Canucks perform worse than the Flames in person. As tough as it was, I watched this game.

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From the Archives: Daniel’s Worst Christmas, an original holiday tale

Originally published on December 18,2010, “Daniel’s Worst Christmas” is a poetic retelling of the Canucks’ 2009-10 regular season in which an injury to Daniel Sedin led to a Hart trophy season for his twin brother, Henrik. But that wasn’t the whole story…

With Christmas only days away, we thought we’d bring this one back from the dead. Granted, some of its jokes are a year-old (but the Calgary Flames remain bad, so that one still works), and it remains a poem, unfortunately, but you might still find it worth your time.

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Mason Raymond finally played his first game since having his back broken in last season’s Stanley Cup Final. He returned one-game later than intended after a paperwork error kept him out of Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators and unwittingly unleashed the dreaded thirteenth forward curse on Aaron Volpatti.

In response to his return, the Flames panicked and started their backup, Henrik Karlsson, in place of Miikka Kiprusoff, who was the goaltender of record for both of Raymond’s two career hat tricks. Clearly, Kiprusoff is scared of Raymond. I’m sure that this game being the second of a back-to-back and the third game in four nights for the Flames had nothing to do with it. I watched this game.

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For the past few seasons, there have been two surefire cure-alls for Vancouver struggles: the month of November and the Calgary Flames. Lucky for the Canucks, they kicked off thirty days of the former with sixty minutes of the latter, and the result was that always enjoyable category of game we like to call the laugher. The Canucks ran away with this one early, jumping out to a 3-0 lead with a 14-shot first period, then adding two more in the second while Calgary briefly debated responding. They really never did. Like the Calgary Flames that played in this game, I watched this game.

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My goodness, am I ever glad that hockey is back. Even if it’s the pseudo-Canucks, I am thrilled to watch it. As much as Harrison whined about his half of the split-squad equation, I enjoyed mine far more than I should have.

The final score may have had something to do with it. Even if the game in Calgary had been up-tempo and highly-skilled (and it certainly wasn’t), the final score would have made the game less entertaining for a Canucks fan. And if the game in Vancouver had been a more boring affair, I still likely would have enjoyed it. Fortunately, there was some decent hockey on the ice tonight, despite the lack of talent in the lineup. I should know: I watched this game.

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Much like last year, the Canucks and Flames kicked off the preseason with a home and away series that took place in one evening. If you’re confused, you’re not alone, but it’s very simple: what we had here is routinely known as a split-squad game. Effectively, you send a third of your guys to the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, a third of your guys to Rogers Arena, and keep the other third — the best third — out of the action entirely. Effectively, it’s the same principle by which one dunks an Oreo in milk.

Because PITB is two guys, we were able to pull a little split-squad action ourselves, and I drew the short straw that was this unentertaining road game. I watched this game.

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Throughout the Young Stars Tournament, we will have in-person coverage from Harrison, while I will be “in studio” back here in the Valley. We won’t be writing our usual I Watched This Game feature, as the games themselves are not what matters. Instead, we’ll be looking at the individual performances. I will be choosing the 3 stars from amongst the Canucks prospects as well as making a few other observations. Why just the Canucks prospects? Because we don’t care about the other teams. Screw ‘em.

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For the third time in the last four years, the Canucks and Flames found themselves paired up for game 82 with little on the line. Considering the lopsided outcome of the previous two season-enders, with the Flames walloping the Canucks 7-1 in 2008 and the Canucks matching that goal total in a 7-3 rout last year, one might have assumed that this contest wouldn’t be lively or close. But it was. Like extramarital sex with a ghost, this one was a spirited affair. After falling behind by two, Vancouver needed a third-period comeback and an overtime marker from Christian Ehrhoff to head into the postseason on a winning note. I watched this game.

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With the Canucks having sewn up their spot in the playoffs via a clever combination of playing in the terrible Northwest division and being the best team in the NHL, the time has come to consider who the Canucks will face in the playoffs. With a comfortable 10 point lead on the Red Wings for [...]

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