The Vancouver Canucks have trailed 2-0 in three of their last six games, and haven't lost one yet.
Their latest comeback came Wednesday in a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. It allowed the NHL's regular-season leaders to clinch the Northwest Division for a third successive year, and for a fourth time in the last five seasons, and officially become the first team into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Head coach Alain Vigneault has called clinching the division the first step, and there are two more to take: secure top billing in the Western Conference, and win the franchise's first Stanley Cup in its 40th year.
"We've reached [a goal]now with 10 games to go and we should be happy about that," said winger Daniel Sedin, who leads the league scoring race by six points over brother Henrik and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Canucks have won seven straight, and the Sedin twins have scored in every one. The team has never finished first in the conference, which it leads by 13 points, nor won the President's Trophy for finishing first in the league standings.
But they moved closed Wednesday thanks to the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows, who took over the game midway through the final period. "We knew if we kept going in the third, we'd get one or two more [goals]" Daniel Sedin said.
Colorado built its first-period lead on goals by Erik Johnson and Matt Duchene separated by 87 seconds in the first period, when the visitors outclassed the home side. From there, it was all Canucks.
They put 40 shots on Avalanche goaltender Brian Elliott, and the only concern was losing centre Manny Malhotra in the second period.
He left the game with a trail of blood after taking a puck in the face. Vigneault said Malhotra was taken to hospital possibly because of the amount of blood in his eye, but had no further update.
In a span lasting less than three minutes, the Canucks pulled even, and ahead, thanks to the incomparable chemistry of the Sedins. Daniel found Burrows for a tying goal from the low slot before a picturesque drop pass - between the legs - to his brother Henrik for the game-winner with eight minutes left. Henrik Sedin, playing his 800th NHL game, added an insurance tally into an empty net.
The Canucks are runaway leaders in both the league and conference standings, but their record is somewhat inflated by playing in an exceptionally weak division. They are 16-2-2 against the Northwest, accumulating 34 of their 103 points against its most familiar rivals. The Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames could still make the postseason, but the Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers are the two worst teams in the conference, and sit 28th and 30th, respectively, in the league. Vancouver has four more games remaining against the Northwest, and they come in succession to close the regular season. That should allow the Canucks to pad their resumé even further, if not prepare against playoff-worthy opponents.
It is comprised of two trade-deadline acquisitions, and has received more ice-time since Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins joined the lineup earlier this month. But it wasn't until Wednesday that it started producing. Lapierre scored his first goal as a Canuck, and Higgins registered his first with his new team, on a pretty play in the second period. Higgins fed Lapierre from behind the net for a goal that sliced Colorado's lead to 2-1. The duo is without regular linemate Tanner Glass, who missed a third straight game with "upper-body soreness." Jeff Tambellini skated in his place, and the trio had one of its better games in recent memory. Perhaps the Canucks will be more than a three-line team in the playoffs after all. "It's good to contribute but I'm used to [not scoring]" said Lapierre, who has played in nine games with the Canucks and has six goals on the season. "I'm not the type who scores every night."
Cory Schneider made his 19th start for a resting Roberto Luongo, and will most certainly reach 20 starts as per the organization's plan. Coming off perhaps his best performance ever last week in San Jose, the rookie redhead stopped 27 shots and won for a 14th time. Schneider has played so well this season that he is in discussion as one of the NHL's best backups, and is increasing his value on the trade market - the Canucks are expected to eventually deal him because of Luongo's 10-year contract, which carries a no-trade clause. In fact, he has been so solid that if Luongo struggles for a third straight postseason, the Canucks have a Plan B.