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Despite slump, Canucks still in it

The NHL is supposed to be chock-full of parity these days — and if youglance at the standings, that appears to be the case. It’s tight allover.

The NHL is supposed to be chock-full of parity these days — and if you glance at the standings, that appears to be the case. It’s tight all over.

In the Western Conference, for example, you can easily make the case that all 15 teams are still alive and in the playoff hunt.

How close is it? Entering last night’s action, fifth-place Anaheim had 57 points, eighth-place Minnesota had 53 and last-place St. Louis had 47 (and the Blues had three games in hand on the Ducks).

When the standings are packed like that, lengthy losing streaks are a playoff death sentence. Yet the Vancouver Canucks went on an eight-game winless skid (0-5-3) in January and came out the other side still in a playoff position.

It doesn’t make sense. If you’ve been watching the Canucks play the past few weeks, you’ve probably stopped checking the standings.

But fear not. Somehow, some way, the Canucks managed to remain relevant despite losing five straight games at home.

The Canucks finally pulled out of it with a 4-3 win over visiting Carolina on Tuesday, but was it a blip or the start of a turnaround?

The good news is, Vancouver’s upcoming schedule is favourable. The Canucks have 12 games before the NHL trade deadline on March 4; a dozen games to figure out if they’re contenders or pretenders. Vancouver has five games against Eastern opponents, including Montreal twice, home and away.

But the Canadiens are the only playoff team among Vancouver’s upcoming games against the East; Ottawa, Toronto and Tampa Bay are also on tap.

That leaves seven games against Western foes, but only Calgary and Chicago are solidly in the playoff mix; the rest of the Canucks’ games are against teams in that fifth-to-15th-place logjam, including tilts with St. Louis, Phoenix and Columbus.

Vancouver, a mere 2-5-5 in its past dozen outings, should be shooting to at least reverse that record in its next dozen contests. If that happens, they’ll likely try to trade for some help and go on a playoff run.

But if the losing continues, they might as well send Mats Sundin to a contender come March 4; otherwise, he’ll be heading back to Sweden much earlier than anticipated this spring.

 
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