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Vancouver Canucks back in the playoff hunt after road wins

Vancouver Canucks' Jannik Hansen (36) celebrates his goal against the Arizona Coyotes with Ben Hutton (27), Chris Tanev (8) and Henrik Sedin (33) on Feb. 10, 2016. Back-to-back road victories over the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes have Vancouver within shouting distance of the two wild-card spots in the Western Conference.

Ross D. Franklin/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Left for dead just a week ago, the Vancouver Canucks have new life.

Back-to-back road victories over the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes have the club within shouting distance of the two wild-card spots in the Western Conference.

And with a home game against the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs set for Saturday, the Canucks know the door is open for a playoff push.

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"You could have easily said that if we lost [against Colorado and Arizona] it would have been tough for us to make the playoffs, no question about that," Vancouver forward Daniel Sedin said after Friday's practice. "Now we're back in the hunt."

Following last Saturday's 4-1 home defeat to the Calgary Flames – the Canucks' fourth in a row, including three straight at Rogers Arena – a local newspaper wrote off Vancouver's chances of making the postseason.

What a difference seven days can make.

"Two huge games for us," said Canucks defenceman Luca Sbisa. "In this dressing room there's a sense we're on the right path. At the same time you've got to keep going."

Added captain Henrik Sedin: "We're alive. I don't follow the ups and downs in the media ... we're still in it."

It took 97 points to make the playoffs as the third-place team in the Pacific Division last season, and 99 to grab the West's last wild-card spot, but it's likely a lower total will be enough in 2015-16.

Part of the reason the Canucks (22-20-12) have been able to stick around is that the teams ahead of them have stumbled.

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"There's a bit of a gap between the top teams and the ones trying to get into the wild-card spot," Sbisa said. "Any other season you'd be looking at being out by six or seven points right now and you'd really have to get on a roll."

The Minnesota Wild, who like Vancouver are two points out of final wild-card spot behind the Nashville Predators in the West, have lost seven straight at home, seven in a row overall, and are 1-10-2 over their past 13.

Nashville, which visits Tampa Bay on Friday, is 1-3-0 over its last four after winning five of six. The Colorado Avalanche, meanwhile, occupy the first wild-card spot, four points up on Vancouver and Minnesota, but were 0-3-1 in four home games before picking up a 4-3 victory in Ottawa on Thursday.

Nashville, Minnesota and Vancouver have all played 54 games, three fewer than Colorado.

"It's just amazing how close it is," Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins said. "Some of the teams seem to have dropped some games you didn't think they were going to drop. Everybody has stayed close enough that if they get on a real roll they have a chance."

Vancouver, just 9-10-5 at home this season, will be looking for its first three-game winning streak after failing on five previous attempts.

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And despite the shakeup in Toronto that saw the club ship captain Dion Phaneuf to Ottawa in a massive trade earlier this week, plus a number of injuries to key personnel, the Canucks expect a strong effort on Saturday from a group playing for jobs in the NHL.

"They're all professionals," Desjardins said. "You don't get to the NHL unless you have pride in what you do. I know they'll be a team that comes in and plays hard."

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