Canucks, who are on 6-1-1 roll, welcome Flames next

League: NHL

Posted on: 23 Mar, 2024 at 03:41 AM

Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

As early as next week, the Vancouver Canucks could clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since the 2019-20 season.

A home victory over the Calgary Flames on Saturday night would put them that much closer.

The Canucks (44-18-8, 96 points) sit atop the Western Conference standings, and thanks to a 4-1 win over the visiting Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, they have won two straight and are riding a 6-1-1 run.

A performance akin to the clinical victory over the struggling Canadiens would help that quest for a playoff ticket. Vancouver used a strong, two-goal first period and never looked back.

"We don't want to back off," coach Rick Tocchet said of his team's plan of attack. "I think when we back off, that's where we get trouble. I didn't see that (Thursday)."

Tocchet's team had a slip-up for a couple of games, but appears to have recovered. After opening a nine-game homestand with a 5-0 victory over the Winnipeg Jets, the Canucks dropped a 4-3 overtime game to the Colorado Avalanche and a 2-1 affair to the Washington Capitals.

Those were the first two games after No. 1 goaltender Thatcher Demko suffered a lower-body injury expected to keep him on the sidelines for a few weeks. In the past two outings, Casey DeSmith has stopped 31 of 34 shots faced behind a team that has clamped down defensively.

"It's definitely something to build on," DeSmith said. "After a couple of tough losses here at home, it was good to string a couple of wins together. It's getting down to playoff mode, and I think the low-scoring games, we're going to have to get used to being in them."

The Flames arrive in Vancouver clinging to hope of a miracle run. Calgary (33-30-5, 71 points) sits 10 points out of the second wild-card berth with 14 games remaining and is coming off a 5-2 loss to the visiting Washington Capitals on Monday. That game ended a four-game homestand in which the Flames went 2-2.

The Flames will receive a boost for Saturday's game, with No. 1 goaltender Jacob Markstrom slated to play after missing five games due to a lower-body injury.

"All we can do is just play every night and compete and try to win. As long as there's a chance, there's a chance. Anything can happen," Markstrom said. "We've got great leadership in this locker room, and everyone's got to pick up a shovel and start digging."

On Thursday, the Flames announced back-up goaltender Dan Vladar required season-ending hip surgery, which means top-prospect netminder Dustin Wolf is to spend the rest of the season with the big club. Wolf, who was named the AHL's top goaltender the past two seasons and was league MVP in 2022-23, will have an opportunity to work alongside Markstrom and see more NHL action.

"This is definitely the opportunity I've been hoping and waiting for. Now's the chance to take advantage of it," Wolf said.

Calgary may also have rookie winger Connor Zary back in the lineup. He has missed eight games due to an upper-body injury.

The clash also marks the first meeting between the division rivals since the trade that sent Elias Lindholm to the Canucks for two draft picks, a pair of prospects and winger Andrei Kuzmenko.

--Field Level Media