Dan Hamhuis, Troy Brouwer, Roberto Luongo

Canucks first to clinch playoff berth, beat Avs 4-2

The majority of Western Conference teams may be fighting for one of the eight playoff spots, but the Vancouver Canucks are not one of them. By beating the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 at Rogers Place on Wednesday night, the Canucks became the first team to clinch a spot in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.

On Wednesday, the Canucks fell behind early to the freefalling Avs 2-0. Four unanswered goals and the Canucks were celebrating before Colorado even knew what hit them. Henrik Sedin confirmed what most hockey fans thought when the Canucks started slowly against the lowly Avs:

“I guess we want to test ourselves to see if we can come back. It’s tough to get up for games when you are where we are. It crept in again tonight. . It’s not good, but we stuck with it and weren’t panicking.”

The NHL has been championing parity this season, but it didn’t slow the Canucks from wrapping up their playoff spot a month before the end of the season. Their 47-16-9 record has earned them an NHL best 103 points through 72 games. Their +68 goal differential (one of the best measures of a team’s performance) is far and away the best in the league; the next best is the Boston Bruins at +42. Their 25-7-5 record is the best home mark in the league; and their 22-9-4 record on the road is near the top of the league as well.

They’re tied for the highest scoring team in the league scoring 3.24 goals per game. Their 2.28 goals against per game is also tops in the league. Their power play is the best in the league and the weak spot in their game, the penalty kill, is the 2nd best in the league. Thankfully for Canucks fans, they have a month to figure out how to improve the PK unit.

As if all that wasn’t enough, they’re on top of their game as they’ve won 7 straight including an undefeated 6-game road trip. The scary part for opponents is they are doing it without a full roster. Both Alexander Edler and Kevin Bieksa were filling huge roles for the Canucks from the backend, yet both are out of the lineup with injuries. Nevertheless, Vancouver just keeps on winning no matter who they put in the lineup. Just imagine how dangerous they’ll be when they finally have all of their pieces in place.

The 103 points put the Canucks in very good position to win this year’s President’s Trophy. Whether that’s a good thing or bad thing probably depends on how superstitious a fan is—but it would mean the road to the Cup would have to go through Vancouver. The team with the best home record is in line to have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

High-flying Bruins (sounds weird to say) beat Rangers for fifth straight win

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Somebody tell the Boston Bruins there’s a goal-scoring crisis in the NHL.

This afternoon, for the 14th time this season, a Bruins game featured at least six goals. The final score was 4-3, as Boston came back to beat the Rangers in a wildly entertaining Thanksgiving Showdown on NBC.

David Krejci scored the winner with 1:43 remaining. Krejci’s goal came just 2:03 after teammate Ryan Spooner had tied it on the power play.

Today’s win was the Bruins’ fifth straight. Though the defensive mistakes remain…

…Claude Julien’s troops have been finding ways to overcome them.

Goalie nods: Prized Jets prospect Hellebuyck makes NHL debut

Joshua Morrissey, Jason Pominville, Connor Hellebuyck
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The future of Winnipeg’s goaltending will be on display tonight in Minnesota.

Connor Hellebuyck, the highly-touted prospect that starred for Team USA at the 2015 World Hockey Championships, will make his NHL debut today when the Jets take on the Wild at Xcel.

Hellebuyck is up with the Jets following an injury to No. 1 (or, “No. 1”) netminder Ondrej Pavelec, who’s out until January with a lower-body injury. An AHL All-Star a year ago, Hellebuyck arrived in Winnipeg with great fanfare and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to the hype and pressure that come along with his first-ever big league start.

For the Wild, Devan Dubnyk‘s in goal.


Corey Crawford goes for Chicago in Anaheim. No word yet on who the Ducks will have in goal.

Braden Holtby starts again for Washington, as the Caps host the Bolts. Tampa Bay has yet to name a starter, much like the Ducks.

Marc-Andre Fleury takes on Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus tonight, as the Blue Jackets host the Penguins.

Mike Condon is back in the starter’s role for Montreal with Carey Price sidelined, and his first order of business is a road date against Cory Schneider and the Devils in New Jersey.

Cam Ward faces Chad Johnson as Buffalo welcomes the ‘Canes.

— The Isles will start Jaroslav Halak in Florida. The Panthers will counter with Roberto Luongo.

Cam Talbot finally gets back into the starter’s role tonight in Detroit. Jimmy Howard will go for the Wings.

— It’s Ryan Miller versus Antti Niemi as the Canucks take on the Stars in Dallas.

— Even though Jonas Hiller is healthy and Joni Ortio‘s in the minors, Calgary will stick with Karri Ramo in Arizona. The Coyotes are going with their No. 1, Mike Smith.

‘We’re still right in the hunt for everything’ — Parise will play tonight versus Jets

Zach Parise
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For the first time since Nov. 5, Zach Parise will suit up for the Minnesota Wild.

The team confirmed today that Parise will be in the lineup tonight at home versus Winnipeg. The 31-year-old forward has missed the last eight contests with a sprained MCL.

The Wild were 7-2-2 before Parise got hurt. They lost the game against Nashville in which he suffered the injury, then went 4-3-1 without him.

“I’m just hoping to get back to form as quick as possible and go from there,” Parise told the Star Tribune. “I’m not thinking I need to score right out of the gate, I just want to play. … We’re still right in the hunt for everything. We’ll be fine.”

After ’embarrassing’ loss to Sens, Stars motivated for Canucks

Milan Michalek, Antti Niemi
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The Vancouver Canucks will face a pretty motivated Dallas Stars team tonight at American Airlines Center.

Blame the Ottawa Senators. They were the ones who smoked the Stars, 7-4, on Tuesday.

“It brings you back down to earth,” captain Jamie Benn told the Stars’ website. “You learn that any team can come in here and whip your butt. It was embarrassing for us, especially in our home rink and in front of our home fans. We don’t want that to happen again.”

The Stars have had their way with the Canucks in recent years. The last time Vancouver won in Dallas was Feb. 21, 2013. Since then, victories have included scorelines like 5-1, 4-1, 6-1, and 6-3.

The Stars have already hosted the Canucks once in Dallas this season. On Oct. 29, they fought back from a 3-1 third-period deficit to win, 4-3, in overtime.

Dallas (17-5-0) has yet to lose consecutive games this season.