VANCOUVER – Keith Ballard isn’t a superstitious kind of guy.
The Vancouver Canucks defenceman doesn’t balk when he sees a black cat approaching or weave around step ladders.
Maybe that’s why Ballard laughs off any suggestion that winning the Presidents’ Trophy for finishing first overall in the NHL regular season can be a curse for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
“I don’t think there is really a curse,” Ballard said after the Canucks practised Friday. “I think it’s made up.
“What are the stats of the 16th-place team winning (the Cup) or the eighth-place or the sixth place? The odds are lower for every place you finish, I’m sure. I like where we are at.”
With just four regular-season games remaining, the Canucks have won the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time in the franchise’s 40-year history.
Vancouver used a 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night to improve their record to 52-17-9 for 113 points. No team can catch them down the stretch.
Winning the trophy means the Canucks will enjoy home-ice advantage for the playoffs.
Centre Ryan Kesler said being first is just one step on the road the Canucks want to travel.
“It was a mini-goal on the way to a bigger goal,” said Kesler. “We have bigger fish to fry.”
The trick for Vancouver now is to stay in the kitchen.
Since the Presidents’ Trophy was introduced in the 1985-86 season, only seven of the 28 teams that have won the award went on to hoist the Stanley Cup. Another two lost in the Cup finals.
“I don’t mind those odds,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said with a smile.
The 2008 Detroit Red Wings were the last team to claim both trophies.
Canuck defenceman Christian Ehrhoff knows winning the Presidents’ Trophy doesn’t give you a free pass in the playoffs. He was part of the San Jose Sharks team that finished first in 2009, then lost in the first round of the playoffs to Anaheim.
“It doesn’t buy you a round or anything,” said Ehrhoff. “You still have to be ready.”
The Canucks finish their season by playing the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena on Saturday, then again in Edmonton on Tuesday. They host the Minnesota Wild in their final home game Thursday, then end the season next Saturday in Calgary.
Vigneault has no plans to rest players down the stretch. He wants his team hitting on all cylinders come the playoffs.
“We are going to play and play our best lineup and the best way we can,” he said.
“It’s about playing well, it’s about practising well. We are not going to be judged by how we did during the regular season. We are going to be judged by how we do in the playoffs.”
The Oilers (23-43-11 for 57 points) have the worst record in the league. Ballard said the Canucks won’t take them lightly.
“I have been on those teams,” said the Baudette, Minn., native who spent some lean years with the Phoenix Coyotes and Florida Panthers. “They are very dangerous.
“I guarantee those guys haven’t quit. There are a lot of guys who are playing to either make a name for themselves or continue their career.”
Edmonton defenceman Theo Peckham said pride will motivate the Oilers.
“There’s a lot of guys in here that don’t have jobs, myself included,” he said. “We want to take this opportunity to show the organization and the fans back home we want to be Edmonton Oilers and be here next year.”
The last Canadian team to finish first overall was the Ottawa Senators who led the league with 113 points in 2002-2003. They lost in the conference final to New Jersey.
In total, Canadian teams have won the trophy six times. Besides Vancouver and Ottawa, the Edmonton Oilers (1986 and 1987) and the Calgary Flames (1988 and 1989) won it twice each. The Oilers won the Cup in 1987 and the Flames in 1989.
While the Canucks may downplay the importance of finishing first overall, they have a lot of reasons to feel good about themselves.
They lead the NHL with 253 goals scored and have allowed the least in 177. Heading into Friday night’s games the Canucks had the league’s best power play and the top penalty killing.
Vancouver has established team records for points (113), wins (52) and road wins (26).
Daniel Sedin leads the scoring race with 100 points, from 41 goals and 59 assists, eight ahead of Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s one of the players mentioned for the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
His twin brother Henrik, who won the scoring race last year with 112 points and was awarded the Hart Trophy, is third with 91 points from 19 goals and 72 assists.
Daniel Sedin was named the NHL’s second star of the month after scoring nine goals and collecting 12 assists in 15 games. He also had three game-winning goals.
The Canucks are also getting some of their injured players back. Defenceman Alex Edler, out since Jan. 26 with back surgery, and defenceman Andrew Alberts, who broke his wrist Feb. 15, both practised with the team Friday.
“It feels good to be back on the ice with the guys,” said Edler, Vancouver’s best defenceman before his injury.
“We will see how it feels this week and see what happens next week. Maybe I can play one or two games before the playoffs.”
Defenceman Chris Tanev, who was driven head-first into the boards Thursday by L.A.’s Kyle Clifford, did not practise.
Clifford was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the hit.
Vancouver defenceman Dan Hamhuis is also still out with a concussion.
The Canucks have accomplished a lot this season, but Ballard and the rest of the team understands the job is far from done.
“We’re not comfortable yet,” he said. “We’re not satisfied.
“The next four games are for us about getting ready to play, getting our game consistent.”