The shins are getting bruised such has been the movement of the Canuck fan the last three weeks, on and off the bandwagon as the Canucks stumbled and then recovered. Tonight the mission was completed, the Canucks controlling and defeating the Edmonton Oilers, securing the North West Division title for themselves on Saturday Night.
From the opening face off the Canucks were back to crashing the Oiler end of the ice, Trevor Linden and Matt Cooke, playing the body, forcing the turn overs, getting their chances. Mike Keane's face the symbol of victory, battered and bloodied it was the face of a player that wouldn't back down, a veteran who made the right contribution at the right time. Keane scored two goals as the Canucks ended the Oilers dreams of post season play, with a 5-2 victory at GM Place.
Markus Naslund continued to regain his form, making some nice plays in the Oiler end, setting up a number of chances and capitalizing on one of his own, scoring in the first period helping to pace the Canucks on to victory. Brendan Morrison and Mattias Ohlund rounded out the rest of the Canucks scoring punch tonight.
The Oilers who had a remarkable run the month of March, leave Vancouver a terribly disappointed lot, having come so far only to fall just short of their goal of a playoff run. Brad Isbister and Igor Ulanov the goal scorers for the Oil in their losing cause. After the game Adam Oates announced he was retiring from hockey, at 41 he has spent 19 seasons as hard working star. Fittingly he was in on the last goal of the Oiler season, gaining an assist. Forever know for his days as part of the Hull and Oates tours of St. Louis days, he is one of the best set up guys in league history. His final push for one more Stanley Cup run dashed with his teammates on the ice at GM Place.
The positive news for Vancouver tonight besides the big win, was Dan Cloutier having another solid night in the Canuck net, facing 27 shots and keeping the Oilers off the board for a good portion of the game. His play bringing the sold out crowd at GM place to it's feet. The crowd spent a fair amount of their time on their feet, saluting individual efforts, the team effort and even a brief appearance by Todd Bertuzzi at the end of the game, appearing on the ice in street clothes to take part in fan appreciation night.
The Canucks await news of the opposition as the playoff picture begins to take shape. They will start at home against either Calgary or Dallas, a new challenge for the second season. But with their sixth win in a row under their belt, they can approach the playoffs in a very confident position. They look like a team that means business and is ready to face the next level. It's a far cry from the prevailing atmosphere of the fans three weeks ago, many were wringing their hands in worry, tonight they're waving their flags in celebration. It's amazing how a couple of weeks can change everything.