Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Canucks find themselves in the middle of a crucial stretch of games over the next few weeks.

It looked as though Vancouver had already battled through its toughest portion of the schedule earlier this season when the Canucks played six of their first seven and 19 of their first 30 games on the road.

But the Canucks can ill afford a string of poor results if they still have designs on the third seed in the West.

Vancouver currently trails Calgary for the division lead and all four teams in the Northwest hold games in hand.

Edmonton, Colorado and Minnesota are suddenly within reach of a Canucks team that had seized control of the division.

Making the task of keeping pace more difficult are a pair of groin injuries to goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Curtis Sanford and the need to incorporate Mats Sundin into the mix over the next couple of weeks.

The good news is that only two of the Canucks’ nine games this month will be played somewhere other than GM Place, and only three of those games are against teams that have accumulated more points than Vancouver in the standings.

It’s not as though the Canucks are in dire need of a long winning streak, but it’s vital they get more W’s than L’s in the near future if they want to keep Calgary in their sights and make the rest of the division an afterthought.

• Nothing seems to harness our collective national pride in sports like the world junior hockey tournament.

If you watched Canada’s thrilling 6-5 shootout win over Russia on Saturday night, you know exactly what I mean.

Of course we love to thump our chests any time our dominance on ice is challenged, but it’s more than that.

The fact that the squad is composed of young men who have yet to embark on their professional careers makes it somehow more appealing than getting behind the pros.
The lack of knowledge about the opposition also adds to the fervour.

As much as we’ll all bleed red and white during the Olympic hockey tournament next year, it’s a little harder to cheer against the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin after applauding their excellence on a nightly basis during the NHL season.

I know I’ll be glued to tonight’s final against Sweden when B.C. boys Evander Kane, Colton Teubert, Brett Sonne, Jamie Benn and Canucks’ first-rounder Cody Hodgson go looking for gold.

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