Canucks make playoff push, open four-game set vs. Senators
The Vancouver Canucks made a statement with consecutive wins over the North Division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs upon returning to action after pausing more than three weeks because most of the players and coaches tested positive for COVID-19.
On the heels Tuesday's 6-3 win, the Canucks (18-18-3, 39 points) head into Thursday's home clash against the Ottawa Senators with a legitimate opportunity to reel in the Montreal Canadiens for fourth place -- and the final playoff position -- in the division, provided they don't take a step back against the last-place Senators.
"We're not out of (playoff contention) but we're kidding ourselves if we think two games is going to be enough," goaltender Braden Holtby said. "These two games, we needed to win in order to stay in it. Now, we get back to work and keep pushing if we want an honest chance of competing down the stretch. The way we battled the last couple of games shows we're willing to do that, and I think if we keep going forward, we'll have a really good chance of doing it."
Canucks twice play host to the Senators (16-26-4, 36 points) before they both head to Ottawa for another couple of games. Vancouver has won all five meetings this season, and that success gives them confidence they can catch the Canadiens.
"It's exciting to be in the race. I think we got a taste -- at least I did -- of winning in the bubble (last season), and it's really fun," defenseman Quinn Hughes said. "If we can keep stringing (wins) together, it'll be exciting. ... I'm definitely following the standings. I know all the guys are and I think the guys in the locker room. We've got a really good group and could have folded coming off what we just came off, and I'm really proud of the guys, and hopefully we can keep going."
Defenseman Alex Edler will serve the second and final game of his suspension after a hit on Toronto's Zach Hyman in Sunday's clash with the Maple Leafs.
The Senators arrive on a two-game road winning streak for just the second time this season thanks to a 4-2 victory over the Calgary Flames on Monday.
Ottawa sits last in the North Division but has been affecting the playoff hopes of teams such as the Flames and Canadiens, especially the last couple of games.
One factor in Ottawa's improved play this past week is goaltender Matt Murray, who has returned after missing more than a month due to injury to post a 2-1-0 record with a 1.68 goals-against average and .942 save percentage while stopping 81 of the 86 shots he's faced. Murray has played like the goaltender the Senators were looking for when they acquired Murray via trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins and signed him to a four-year, $25 million contract.
"He looks like a different goalie completely," coach D.J. Smith said. "He looks confident, under control. He's reading the play and doing a great job."
Murray's play is proof what quality goaltending can do for a team's confidence.
"He looks cool, calm, collected," said forward Connor Brown, who scored twice in the win over Calgary. "When you get a sense of a calming presence in your goalie, you feel better as a group in your own end. You don't feel like you have to panic to get the puck out of the zone. You feel like you can just relax and make plays. He's been the backbone the last couple of games."
--Field Level Media
Updated April 21, 2021