Willie being Willie? Desjardins won’t commit to Lack as playoff starter

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Vancouver head coach Willie Desjardins — who, it has to be said, treats lineup decisions like top-secret nuclear codes — played it coy on Wednesday, refusing to reveal who’d be his starting netminder when the Canucks open the playoffs next week.

To most, the decision is simple and logical — Eddie Lack should open as the No. 1. The lanky Swede has been Vancouver’s goalie of record in 19 of 21 games since Ryan Miller went down to injury in late February, going 11-6-2 while backstopping Vancouver to the playoffs after a one-year absence. Lack has played well, played often and justifiably earned the gig.

But there are some things to consider with Miller.

The first is that he signed a three-year, $18 million deal to be the starter in Vancouver and, through two-thirds of the season, performed in that role quite well (28-15-1, 2.47 GAA, .913 save percentage.) And there is the oft-uttered “you shouldn’t lose your job to injury” adage to consider, even if nobody believes it to actually be true (just ask Drew Bledsoe.)

There’s also the fact Miller appears to be racing back from injury. On Friday, he flew out to join the team in Winnipeg just so he could practice and, today, said there was a chance he’d dress for tomorrow’s penultimate regular-season game against Arizona, which could pave the way for a start against Edmonton in the finale:

Finally, there’s the experience factor. Lack has a grand total of zero playoff games on his resume; Miller has 53, which includes a pair of trips to the Eastern Conference Final with Buffalo in 2006 and ’07.

Linden on returning the Canucks to the playoffs: ‘It’s been a good year’

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The goal for the Vancouver Canucks was to return to the playoffs.

Last night, that goal was achieved. The Canucks clinched their spot when the Kings lost in Edmonton.

It begs the question — after all that went wrong last season — how did they do it?

“It started with just trying to have a plan going into it,” said Trevor Linden, the club’s first-year president of hockey operations, on TSN 1040 radio (audio).

Linden, hired a year ago tomorrow, went on to hire Jim Benning as the team’s new general manager, who went on to hire Willie Desjardins as the new head coach.

“Bringing Jim in really shaped the vision for this organization,” said Linden, referencing the numerous roster decisions that were made in the wake of last season’s disastrous campaign, from trading Ryan Kesler and Jason Garrison, to bringing in Ryan Miller, Nick Bonino, and Derek Dorsett.

“And then of course, Willie has done an amazing job,” Linden added, noting the bounce-back seasons being enjoyed by the Sedins, Alex Edler, Alex Burrows, and Jannik Hansen, “these guys that were kind of lost last year.”

“It’s been a good year,” said Linden. “We’ve accomplished the goal we set out. Now it’s about making some noise here in the playoffs, and we look forward to that.

“Having said all that, we also recognize it’s one year. We’ve got a lot of work to do, we know that, and we’re prepared for that.”

That last remark is key. Because the Canucks, despite making the playoffs, remain long shots to win the Stanley Cup. They still need to keep restocking for the future — in particular, their blue line, which has looked old and slow at times. Currently, there’s no blue-chip defensive prospect in the system.

But that’s a topic for the offseason.

“It’s so satisfying to set a goal for this team to get us back to the playoffs,” said Linden.

“The easy way out is to just strip it down and blow it up and start over and draft in the top five every year. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to continue to build this team and be a playoff contender every year.”

Goalie nods: Canucks sticking with Lack, who wants ‘to be the hero again’

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All the latest from the blue paint…

You can be their hero, Eddie

The Canucks had three goalies on the ice for this morning’s optional skate — Ryan Miller, Jacob Markstrom and Eddie Lack — but it’ll be the latter who’ll get the start tonight in a crucial tilt versus Los Angeles.

Lack hasn’t exactly been a hero over his last five games, going 2-2-1 with a .903 save percentage, numbers that have been skewed by tough outings in Winnipeg (five goals on 36 shots) and Nashville (four goals on 38). It’s also worth noting Lack’s seen an awful lot of rubber lately; he’s faced an average of 35.2 shots per game over his last five, including 40 in a overtime loss to Dallas last week.

With Miller getting closer to a return to game action, tonight’s tilt will prove huge for Lack’s future as Vancouver’s No. 1. Tonight’s tilt will also prove huge for Western Conference playoff jockeying, as the Kings head into tonight’s action just three points back of Vancouver in the Pacific, and one back of Calgary.

Speaking of the Kings, no official word yet on who’ll start, but it’s expected to be Jonathan Quick.

Elsewhere…

‘Canes at Sabres: Cam Ward vs. Anders Lindback

Blue Jackets at Rangers: Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Henrik Lundqvist

Jets at Wild: Ondrej Pavelec vs. Devan Dubnyk (“DUUUBS” — Halford.)

Stars at Sharks: (No Dallas starter yet) vs. Alex Stalock

What are the Oilers going to do about their goaltending?

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Given the unpredictable nature of goaltending — a notion we’ve been hammering home all season — it seems a bit unfair to bring up something Craig MacTavish said a year ago and hold it against the Oilers’ general manager.

But here’s the quote anyway, made after the Oilers had 1) signed Ben Scrivens to a two-year contract extension and 2) acquired Viktor Fasth from Anaheim:

“I think anyone who tells you they’re sure about the performance of their goaltenders based on a relatively small sample size, is not likely accurate. But we have two really good options next year and it will be a competitive position, as it always is. When I was driving into the office today, I thought that if we could stabilize our goaltending for next year and check that box off, that was my objective going in.”

Yada, yada, yada, based on their team save percentage of .888, the Oilers have had the NHL’s worst goaltending this season.

That’s right — instead of improving, it’s actually gotten quite a bit worse. Out of 44 goalies that have played regularly this season, Scrivens (.893) and Fasth (.888) rank 42nd and 44th in save percentage, respectively.

Now, two things:

1. The Oilers have defensive deficiencies, no doubt about it. How much that impacts a goalie’s save percentage is up for debate, but there’s sure good reason to believe it doesn’t help.

2. MacTavish wasn’t the only one who thought he’d stabilized the position. And he did acknowledge the unpredictability of goaltending with his “relatively small sample size” disclaimer.

Neither of those things changes the fact the position remains a problem, and how the Oilers try to solve the problem will be interesting to watch. Scrivens has one year left on his contract, after which he can become an unrestricted free agent. Fasth can become unrestricted this summer. There’s no obvious option in the AHL; 22-year-old Laurent Brossoit is developing nicely, but he’s still just a prospect.

So, assuming Fasth isn’t back, the Oilers will need to go out and get a goalie.

One name that’s been bandied about is Kings backup Martin Jones. Of course, the risk there is his limited body of work in the NHL, just like it was with Scrivens and Fasth.

Instead of going the “promising backup playing behind an entrenched starter” route (Cam Talbot and Antti Raanta fall in that category as well), it may behoove the Oilers to acquire a more experienced netminder, similar to what the Canucks were thinking when they brought Ryan Miller aboard last summer.

So, would Antti Niemi be worth talking to when he becomes a UFA this summer? He’s not the most exciting option, but there’s something to be said for consistency:

source:

Or, if not a free agent, might the Oilers be able to pry Eddie Lack out of Vancouver? It’s unlikely the Canucks will be able to keep Miller, Lack and Jacob Markstrom past this season.

Unfortunately for MacTavish, there just isn’t a glaringly obvious candidate for him to pursue. Not one that we can think of anyway.

In a cruel twist for Oilers fans, the most sought-after UFA goalie this summer will probably be — yep, you guessed it — Devan Dubnyk.

Related: ‘Amazing how quickly we regained our confidence’ with Dubnyk, says Wild GM

Miller (knee) set to rejoin the Canucks for practice

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Canucks’ goaltender Ryan Miller, who has been out of action since Feb. 22 due to a sprained knee, is set to rejoin the club.

The Canucks announced on Thursday that Miller was joining the team for practice, which is the next step in his recovery.

“He’s ready to practise. We’ll take it day to day and see where he’s at,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning per the Vancouver Sun’s Iain MacIntyre.

The 34-year-old suffered the injury during a game against the New York Islanders after teammate Jannik Hansen ran into him.

Miller was 28-15-1 to go along with a 2.47 G.A.A. and a .913 save percentage prior to the injury.

Vancouver is 11-6-2 during Miller’s absence.

A report last week suggested Miller won’t be ready for game action before the playoffs.

After concluding their four-game road trip in Winnipeg on Saturday, the Canucks have just three games remaining.