Canucks Schedule: Another road trip trifecta would help playoff prep

In their last three-game trip to test playoff readiness, the Canucks looked eager to embrace the grind that awaits.

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Resiliency. Repeating. Rejoicing.

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The last time the Vancouver Canucks embarked on a three-game road trip to test playoff readiness and resolve, they looked like a club eager to embrace the grind that awaits.

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A 2-1 victory in Anaheim, 2-1 overtime triumph in Los Angeles and 3-1 verdict in Las Vegas in early March were greeted with a sense and satisfaction and even praise from the opposition.

And, of course, now the question begs. What to expect this week with stops in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Arizona on Wednesday and L.A. on Saturday?

The Canucks clinched a playoff position Saturday to return to the second season for the first time in four years (2020 bubble). And they will host a playoff game at Rogers Arena for the first time in nine years (2015 first-round exit).

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It’s why the hype meter here is so high.

However, the Canucks need to sharpen their game in several key areas — battle levels, defensive-zone denials, plodding power play and 60-minute sustainability — but also need to use rest and recovery as a playoff prep tool.

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Canucks bench boss Rick Tocchet has constantly drilled down on details as the Canucks prepare for their first playoffs in four years. Photo by Steph Chambers /Getty Images files

Thatcher Demko needs to be razor sharp after recovering from a knee injury and the back end needs to be fresh and focused. And a power play that looks so good on paper and so tentative in trying to set up the perfect goal, was 4-for-29 in previous 10 games heading into play Sunday.

“We obviously have really good structure to stay in games, but it’s the stuff like (line) changes because in the L.A. game (3-2 loss March 25) it cost us a goal,” said Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet. “And five penalties against Dallas (3-1 loss Thursday) bit us in the butt.

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“It’s the loose-puck battles. We’re probably under 50 per cent the last few games. Those are the things that win in the playoffs. And if you add them up, they’re really big. When a team is putting pressure on you, can one line go out there and forecheck to stop it?

“We’re trying to build that sort of mentality.”

It showed on the last three-game trip test.

The win against the Ducks ended a 1-5-1 slide because the Canucks were fresher and faster and resilient to hold off a push in the third period. Against the Kings, it was J.T. Miller doing the damage in overtime and Demko making a series of sensational saves.

And in Las Vegas, it was a full 60-minute effort to hand the Golden Knights their fourth-straight loss.

“There’s a reason they (Canucks) are in first place in the Pacific Division,” said Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy. “They checked well. They used everybody. They’re buying in. They weren’t going to give us anything and they didn’t.”

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It was that kind of effort that needs to be repeated down the stretch. You can’t flick a switch and expect every aspect of your game to suddenly light up in the post-season. If the Canucks aren’t ready, they could be vulnerable.

The best part is they realize there’s still a lot of work to do.

Here’s a look at what awaits this week:

Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Adin Hill makes a save against Elias Pettersson on March 7. The Canucks won the possible first-round playoff preview 3-1. Photo by Lucas Peltier /AP

Canucks at Golden Knights

When and where: Tuesday 7 p.m. | T-Mobile Arena

TV: SN Pacific | Radio: Sportsnet 650

Why watch: Getting gritty on power play

In a hot streak from mid-October to mid-December, the Canucks’ power play operated at 33 per cent efficiency. In the first 11 games in March, it ranked 28th at a paltry 13.8 per cent. The solution is simple. Goals are scored down low. Rebounds, tips, deflections.

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Who to watch: Defenceman Quinn Hughes

The Canucks captain is like an RPO — run, pass, option — quarterback. He runs the plays but is adept at calling power play audibles when he doesn’t like what he sees. His juke move at the blue-line to freeze a defender and dart low for sharp-angle shots with traffic in front is terrific.

Vancouver Canucks' Carson Soucy grapples with Arizona Coyotes' Michael Carcone during the second period of an NHL game in Vancouver on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024.
Vancouver Canucks’ Carson Soucy grapples with Arizona Coyotes’ Michael Carcone during the second period of an NHL game in Vancouver on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. Photo by ETHAN CAIRNS /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canucks at Coyotes

When and where: Wednesday 7 p.m. | Mullett Arena

TV: SN Pacific. Radio: Sportsnet 650

Why watch: Don’t fall asleep at wheel

The Coyotes don’t have a lot of bite, but they’re up to play spoiler. In their last meeting, the Canucks eked out a 2-1 home-ice victory on Jan. 18 as Dakota Joshua got the winner late in the second period. Conor Garland had five shots and six attempts.

Who to watch: Winger Clayton Keller

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Very good player on bad team. If they want to make hockey work in the desert, his promotional mug should be plastered on billboards, wherever and whenever the Desert Dogs build a new area. Speedy, shifty and smart finisher with 32 goals and seven points (4-3) in his last five games.

The shot by Vancouver Canucks centre Elias Pettersson goes past Los Angeles Kings defenceman Jacob Moverare (43) for a goal during the game Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Los Angeles. Photo by Kyusung Gong /AP

Canucks at Kings

When and where: Saturday 7 p.m. | Arena

TV: SN Pacific. Radio: Sportsnet 650

Why watch: Storming wall of resistance

That wall known as the Kings’ 1-3-1 defensive stance is like driving the I-405 at rush hour on that clogged SoCal freeway. You’re not getting anywhere. Hard to penetrate at speed or dump-and-chase.

Who to watch: Defenceman Drew Doughty

The ageless blueliner is who he is. Effective at age 34 by leading club blueliners with 45 points (14-31) and a staunch supporter of the suffocating system. “Defence wins championships,” he said.

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