It is hard to find a moment in an 82 game schedule that announces what a team is made of, what can be expected of them in the post season and the stretch drive. But if there is such a moment the Canucks' four game road trip that just ended was it.
The Canucks travelled all the way to the East Coast for a showdown with their chief antagonists, 2011 finals opponents the Boston Bruins. The Bruins are not only the defending Stanley Cup Champions but also the reigning North East Division leaders and came into the game hot as Hades. They had been on a tear that culminated in 8-0 and 9-0 victories included in a stretch where they went 9-1 prior to hosting the Canucks. The Bruins and their fans made it crystal clear that none of the bad blood worked up during the finals has been forgiven. The game was a brutal classic with lots of penalties, fights, hits and challenges. And the Canucks won, schooling the Bruins special teams and giving Cory Schneider a win in his first NHL game in front of his family and friends in his hometown.
An emotional letdown from that game would have been understandable, and the Canucks did show signs of one when they rolled into South Florida (the furthest geographic point from Vancouver on the NHL map) to face the surprising South East Division leaders, the Florida Panthers. The game was close on the scoreboard, 2-1, but the Canucks lost.
Still in the sunshine state, Vancouver showed further signs of a post-Bruins letdown, struggling to a 5-4 victory in a shoot out over the weakest opponent they would face on this road trip, the Tampa bay Lightning.
To finish the trip the Canucks tonight faced the Central division leading St. Louis Blues who boasted the best home record in the league. The Canucks again needed overtime to eke out a 1 goal win, but they got the job done.
Finishing this road trip the Canucks also came to the end of an 19 game in 38 day run, with 12 of those being road games. Being tired is understandable with a game every second day over more than a month with what is always the worst travel schedule in the league.
Facing three division leaders including the reigning Cup champs is no small feat. Facing them in six days, with another opponent thrown in for good measure, on the road and taking 6 of a possible 8 points is something few teams are able to do. The goalies split the four starts between them and both played well.
The All-Star break and a soild home stand are just what the doctor ordered. The league had better watch out for the month of March when the Canucks will start with a 7 game home stand and end the month with another 5 homes games sandwiching a four-game mid-western swing.