After the swarm of journalists had surrounded Henrik Sedin, and then hived off to encircle Cory Schneider, the billionaire owner of the Vancouver Canucks, Francesco Aquilini, strode over to the captain of the hockey team.
“Congratulations,” the recently bearded Aquilini said to Sedin on Saturday night in the locker room, on the occasion of the Canucks clinching a playoff berth. The two men shook hands. The Vancouver Canucks had won in a shootout, even as they’d been outplayed by the might-miss-the-playoffs-for-the-first-time-in-forever Detroit Red Wings.
“Hard-fought game,” Aquilini said to Sedin. “They were a desperate team.”
The Canucks, on the shoulders of the stellar Schneider, won 2-1. Playing at home, the team barely conjured any scoring chances at even strength at all through the night – and, in the third period, the game on the line, registered two shots in 20 minutes.
“It feels good,” said the 32-year-old captain, the win secured, the playoffs ticket booked, and nearing a fifth consecutive Northwest Division title. He and his brother have played the toughest hockey of their NHL careers, quietly carrying an uneven squad, a group somewhat beset by injuries.
“It feels good.”
The 2013 Canucks resist an exact definition. This is certainly not the team of two years ago, the Presidents’ Trophy winners who nearly won the Stanley Cup. This might be pretty much the team of a year ago, Presidents’ Trophy winners but somewhat milquetoast and totally toasted in the first round by the eventual winner of the Stanley Cup. But perhaps this edition, if weaker in some respects, is something scrappier, no obvious brilliance but the quiet makings of something this spring.
With less than a week to go in the regular season, and eight days until the start of two months of springtime hockey, the Canucks await to see who will emerge. Their recent record, not unlike this time last year, is buoyed by goaltending – and with a franker assessment doesn’t look all that good. Here’s one version: In the Canucks’ past 17 games, they are 12-4-1. Another version: In the Canucks’ past 17 games, they have 10 wins in regulation or overtime – and eight of those wins came against the five weakest teams in the West, none of whom will be in the playoffs.
The Canucks, who have produced three consecutive one-goal games, need goals.
And now, as the regular season ends, come two final tests. The first is the Chicago Blackhawks, the NHL’s best team, visiting Vancouver Monday night.
“It’s a game you never really have to do much to get up for,” Schneider said of the Chicago game. “We’ll look it as a good measuring stick to where we are heading into the playoffs.”
On Thursday, the Anaheim Ducks return for their second visit this year. Schneider gave up five goals on 14 shots in 26 minutes in the first game and was yanked. The next meeting, in Anaheim, six days after the opening-night debacle, was Schneider’s 5-0 revenge.
While the offence struggles, the defence is more worrisome, something of a millstone, its porosity unbecoming for a team that wants to contend. Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison played poorly against Detroit. It’s unknown when Kevin Bieksa will be back. The Canucks now lean on the likes of Andrew Alberts. Cam Barker is terrible. Chris Tanev has a walking boot on his right foot. Alex Edler is erratic. And the fans, in this city of glass, pin a bit of feverish hope on Frank Corrado, a fresh 20-year-old from Toronto, who had been playing major junior in Sudbury a dozen days ago, was called up to the big leagues over the weekend, .
Still, it somehow feels like it might click for Vancouver. The power play, which was completely dead, is somewhat resurrected. And the Sedins are carrying the team, notwithstanding the goaltender. Ryan Kesler is healed, his wrist shot is wicked, and has played well.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin are 32. People say their window, this team’s window, is closing, or closed. After Aquilini went on to greet others, Henrik Sedin declared the Detroit game, as uneven as it was, a “big step in the right direction.”
“It’s a tough conference,” he said – two nights away from saying hello to Chicago.
“It’s going to come, it’s going to come.”