Halfway through the third period, one in which the Vancouver Canucks displayed a fire so rarely seen in months, the scoreboard displayed the picture of a boy at Rogers Arena, holding a fluorescent green sign with red lettering: “We still love you.”
The score, against the visiting Los Angeles Kings, was tied at one. A loss in regulation time would make official what has been fairly certain the past little while, that the Canucks would miss the postseason for the first time in six years.
Vancouver, however, was at its best and piled on 20 shots in the final period and notched the winning goal with 1:23 left. The fans who remained – there were a couple thousand empty seats in the lower bowl at Rogers Arena towards the end – all got up to their feet and cheered and applauded. The Canucks held on to the 2-1 victory. Music thumped from the team’s locker room in celebration afterwards.
It matters little. The Vancouver Canucks could be officially eliminated as early as Sunday – with a week left in the season – if the Dallas Stars defeat the Florida Panthers. Vancouver’s win against L.A. was a point of pride for the players on a beaten-up team but what this season has come down to is a look to the future, including where the team finishes in the lower echelons of the standings and what sort of draft choice is had.
The Canucks’ tailspin, before Saturday’s win, had landed them at 24th in the league, popping up to 22nd after the Kings game. Five teams are fixed at the bottom: Buffalo, Florida, Edmonton, Calgary, and the New York Islanders. Then Vancouver is in a second grouping of five, with Nashville, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Carolina.
The teams are all bunched up in a two-point band, from 81 points to 79, and in this jumble, a team could as easily end up with the 6th pick as the 10th in the draft – which can be a notable gap.
If the Canucks keep up the revived hockey from Saturday night, they’ll be likelier at something around the 10th pick than much higher. And while Saturday’s win was of no true meaning, it was a display of what might have been, if the Canucks had fewer injuries through the season and simply played better.
One caveat is it was an L.A. team with not much at stake – their playoff position is fixed – and without its best player, injured defenceman Drew Doughty.
Still, it was a win for the Canucks to savour, because they did well in areas where they have so often not fared well, starting with third period goals. Entering the night, the Canucks had 56, the fewest in the league, and tallying two in the final frame to carry the team to a win was important. It might, in the end, mean a lower draft pick but captain Henrik Sedin – himself returning from injury on Saturday – sees signs of strength as valuable heading into next year.
After a practice on Wednesday this week, Sedin lingered and spoke for 15 minutes with several reporters and is convinced he and his brother, and their team, can come back next year and put on a far better performance.
The win against the Kings was just the Canucks’s second victory in 13 outings this season versus the three California teams, San Jose, Anaheim, and L.A., that dominate the Pacific Division. Saturday night had Sedin thinking, when he’s back here next year, older at 34, he can be once again captaining a team in contention.
“We played the way we know we can,” Sedin said Saturday night. “It feels good.”