This is what you’ve been waiting for - Metro US

This is what you’ve been waiting for

Nine more games. Nine more games and the Vancouver Canucks’ six-month warm-up act will be over. Nine more games and the NHL regular season will finally give way to a much more meaningful schedule: The two-month playoff run.

Goodbye to the shootout, goodbye to four-on-four overtime, goodbye to backup goalies playing semi-frequently, goodbye to goons playing at all.

The hockey is as real as it gets during the NHL post-season, and the margin for error is razor-thin.

So it would behoove the Canucks to keep their groove going into the final portion of the regular season.

A strong finish, and Vancouver could skate into the post-season in a lofty position, perhaps as high as the No. 3 seed in the West. Vancouver trails Calgary in the Northwest Division, but the gap has closed considerably in recent weeks; what was once an impossible dream is now within reach.

The Canucks and Flames face off in game No. 80 for both teams; first place could very well be up for grabs.

Vancouver has a favourable schedule down the stretch too, with games against non-playoff teams such as Colorado (three more times, actually) and Los Angeles, as well as playoff-bubble teams such as Anaheim, Edmonton, Minnesota and St. Louis. The Red Wings? Nope. The Sharks? Nah.

In other words, Vancouver’s schedule down the stretch is about as easy as it gets in today’s parity-or-bust NHL.

And if the Canucks can take advantage — by securing the No. 4 seed or perhaps even moving up to No. 3 — they would go a long way in helping their playoff cause. Home-ice advantage in the first round — and maybe even Round 2, if they win the division — makes all the difference in those pesky Game 7s.

Just knowing that they’re going into a series with an edge, any edge, is the kind of confidence boost that could be the difference between winning and losing.

With the way Vancouver has been tearing it up since February, a strong finish and a lofty perch in the final standings could push the team from a second-tier contender to a legitimate threat. A couple of rounds of home ice might be all that’s needed.

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