Ducks can clinch playoff spot with win over Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Drive for Five is still alive.

The Anaheim Ducks (41-23-11) can secure their hold on first place in the Pacific Division with a win Tuesday night over the golf-course-bound Vancouver Canucks (30-36-9) at Rogers Arena.

With a win, the Ducks also would clinch an NHL playoff spot and, more important, improve their hopes of winning a fifth straight Pacific Division title.

But the Ducks are not getting too excited about the possibility.

"It hasn't been really brought up in the locker room," defenseman Cam Fowler told over the weekend. "Obviously, any time you can compete for a division championship, that's a goal you should have. But at the end of the day, it doesn't mean a whole lot. We have other aspirations as a club that are much bigger than that. We're more focused on our progression as a team and where we are headed, not looking at the standings."

The Ducks aim to avoid a first-round playoff exit like the one they suffered last season at the hands of the Nashville Predators. Clearly, the Ducks are progressing well these days.

The last team to receive a five-day break, they are 9-2-1 in March and have overtaken the San Jose Sharks for first place in the Pacific. The Ducks have achieved that mark even though they have not had a winning streak longer than their current four-game run.

A good result Tuesday will help them expand upon their precarious two-point lead over San Jose and the Edmonton Oilers, who are tied for second in the Pacific.

"I think we've really just come into our own," Fowler, who is having a standout season with 37 points and a plus-7 mark in 75 games, told "We have a lot of guys playing at an extremely high level right now. We've had some guys playing great hockey all year and we've had some people start off slow. Now we all seem to be firing on all cylinders here, all really buying into the type of hockey (coach) Randy (Carlyle) wants us to play -- which is hard, physical and structured defensively.

"We like where we're at right now, and there's obviously room to improve, but it's been a fun little stretch here lately."

On the other hand, the Canucks, who were eliminated from the playoffs last week, have not had much fun lately. The Canucks have won only two of their past 10 games.

Most of their suspense surrounds rookie Brock Boeser, who has a chance to make his home debut on Tuesday. If he does play, Boeser would appear in his third NHL game in four nights since signing with the Canucks on Saturday. Tuesday's affair will be his fourth game in five nights overall.

Vancouver's first choice (23rd overall) in 2015, Boeser signed with the Canucks after completing his collegiate career with the University of North Dakota in the NCAA playoffs on Friday night.

He scored in his first game Saturday, in a win over the Wild in his home state of Minnesota, but could not turn the red light on Sunday in a loss to Winnipeg.

He has been regarded as somewhat of a savior for the Canucks, who are seeking more young offensive talent as Daniel and Henrik Sedin become less productive and most other young players struggle to score.

It remains to be seen how the Canucks will try to fete Boeser in his home introduction. Chances are that the club can't one-up coach Willies Desjardins gesture Saturday to allow Boeser's parents to read out the starting Vancouver lineup Saturday with him in it.

"It meant a ton to them," Boeser told Postmedia. "I had tears in my eyes. I'm so thankful for everything (the Canucks have) done."

It will mean a lot to Canucks fans, too, if Boeser can score some more goals as they close out their season. Considering the team's dearth of scoring, fans will probably have some tears in their eyes, too.

Much of the remaining suspense in Canucks camp surrounds goaltender Ryan Miller, 36, as many observers wonder how many more, now meaningless, games he will play after handling the bulk of the goaltending duties with regular backup Jacob Markstrom injured.

On Monday, Miller, 36, was nominated by the local chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association as Vancouver's candidate for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which goes annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the criteria of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication.

Miller, who has an 18-24-6 record with a 2.77 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage, has kept the Canucks close in many games this season and faced more than 40 shots on nine occasions.

Meanwhile, No. 1 goaltender John Gibson, out since March 10 due to lower-body injuries, has joined the Ducks for their four-game road trip in Canada, which starts Tuesday. He will return to action in coming days, according to coach Randy Carlyle.

"He's available to our hockey club," Carlyle told The Orange County Register. "He'll get the net as we go forward, somewhere along the line here."
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