VANCOUVER, B.C. – Clinching an NHL playoff berth or division title is important, but some Vancouver Canucks have higher aspirations.
They’re looking at reeling in the Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes, who are five points ahead in the race for the Western Conference crown.
“There are always bigger goals and bigger dreams,” winger Alex Burrows said Monday before the Canucks flew to Edmonton for Tuesday’s game against the nothing-to-lose Oilers. “To be five points back, I’d rather look ahead than look at Calgary or Nashville or L.A. coming in behind us.
“We’d rather look up front and try to catch those big fish.”
Vancouver is currently sitting third in the conference and leading the Northwest Division. They are six points up on second-place Colorado.
With 10 games remaining, the Canucks have one fewer opportunity to gain points than Chicago. They have a game in hand on Pacific Division leader Phoenix and play the upstart Coyotes here on March 30.
Ryan Kesler, who signed a US$30-million, six-year contract extension last week, agreed catching the clubs in front of the Canucks is in the back of their minds.
“Yes it is,” said Kesler. “We’ve got to focus on the teams in front of us and we’ve got to focus on winning hockey games. Colorado’s a couple of points behind us but we can’t focus on that.”
The Canucks, who missed an opportunity to gain on the conference leaders with Saturday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Detroit, say entering the playoffs with momentum is also important.
“We could possibly catch teams ahead of us but more than that, the key is to finish strong, to go in the playoffs with some momentum, playing good hockey,” said defenceman Kevin Bieksa.
Defenceman Shane O’Brien, who scored Saturday in his second game back after three as a healthy scratch, said winning the West is possible but a division title comes first.
“It’s a tough conference and we’ve been right there all year but we’re really focused on our division,” said O’Brien, who played a season-high 23:25 against the Wings. “We just want to get that wrapped up and worry about where we stand after that. If we can make a push for first, we’ll make a push.”
But first comes the Oilers and a game Wednesday against Anaheim, which has won four straight.
Edmonton has won six of its last eight on home ice, including Sunday’s 5-1 victory over the slumping San Jose Sharks.
“They’re fearless, they’ve got nothing to lose, they’re playing for jobs next year and giving management a good impression so we really have to make sure we’re ready,” Burrows said of the Oilers.
In addition to defenceman Willie Mitchell (concussion) and 30-goal scorer Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder), the Canucks will also be without winger Pavol Demitra who was absent from Monday’s practice because of personal reasons.
Mason Raymond moved back to Kesler’s second line along with rookie Michael Grabner, Kesler’s third winger since the Olympic break.
The Canucks will also have to improve defensively if they are to avoid another 54-shot barrage like the Wings fired on goaltender Roberto Luongo on Saturday.
The defence corps discussed the coverage breakdowns on Monday and O’Brien said there has to be more communication inside the blue-line.
“Defensively I think we’re good enough,” O’Brien said. “We have some letdowns but that happens to any team.
“Take a deep breath, look around and talk it out and usually that sorts itself out.”
Notes: Tuesday’s game against the Oilers is the Canucks last regular-season game outside their time zone … Daniel Sedin became the sixth on the team to reach 20 goals when he scored in Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Detroit – that hasn’t happened in 17 years.