Friday, April 03, 2009

Things looking better for all but one of Canada’s Cup contenders

Anxious Canadians looking for a team north of the border to cheer for during the upcoming Stanley Cup run can breathe a little easier and cast their eyes West; three of the four remaining teams in the hunt are looking a lot more content these days.

Both Calgary and Vancouver clinched playoff spots on Thursday night, while Montreal put a little bit of breathing room between themselves and the teams scrambling to claim the eighth and final place in the east.

Montreal actually jumped into seventh place on Thursday after a convincing 4-0 victory over the New York Islanders, the Habs have been on fire of late, claiming nine of a possible 10 points in their last five games, thanks to revival of their top line which has seen Alex Tanguay, Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev combine for timely goals, as the trio have set the pace for the Canadiens dash towards a playoff seeding.

In Vancouver another top line has showcased their synchronicity, as Alex Burrows and the Sedin twins have provided for the bulk of the Canucks scoring and have refused to bow in the face of increased attention and occasional muggery. Going back to a weekend game in Chicago the Canucks have seemed to have developed a sense of the requirements for a long run in the playoffs, on Thursday they secured a place in the 2009 playoff season.

Their goaltending has been spectacular, the defense has been sturdy and the offensive players have provided the spark that has sent the Canucks on a remarkable winning streak. Even in defeat they manage to gain points as was seen by Thursday night’s overtime loss to Anaheim.

Like more than a few games before, the Canucks showed that no lead is insurmountable as they clawed their way back from a two goal deficit, eventually taking the Ducks through overtime and into the shootout before losing by the final score of 6-5. The sudden surge by the Canucks has started the talk that eh Canucks may be the team to watch in this 2009 playoff season.

Over in Calgary, the stumbles ended on Thursday night as the Flames battled on to take a 2-1 victory over the Dallas Stars, two valuable points that have settled the Flames into the playoffs, with only the positioning to be decided over the next week or so. Calgary has managed to survive the regular season with a large number of injuries, making their quest for the playoffs that much harder.

With their inclusion in the post season festivities now secured, those aches and pains probably won't hurt as much and the injured and sidelined will be trying their hardest to get back into the lineup by the time the Flames open up their first round of the playoffs.

Only the Edmonton Oilers are causing stress for their faithful, as the Oil dropped another key game frustratingly close as it was, this time to the San Jose Sharks. With the 2-1 defeat at the hands of San Jose, the Oilers tumbled to eleventh place in the West with only four games remaining on their schedule.

The Oil have picked a horrible time to go into their dive, only a few weeks ago they were looking solid enough to at least gain an entry in the playoffs, where the hopes of a replay of last years success was the common theme in the city.

However, the rather sharp decline in their fortunes in March has left many of their fans shaken and just a little bit angry, judging by the calls to the post game shows and sports talk radio shows of the city.

Much of the talk and column material of late seems to involve examining the fate of head coach Craig MacTavish, should the Oilers fail to claw their way back into contention over the next four games.
Despite assurances from the Oilers owner that MacT is safe, those discussions over McTavish will most likely increase and heat up, especially if Oiler fans have an early end of season to begin thinking things over in.

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