Those chants were sweet to backup Andrew Raycroft as they were to me. The premium in the playoffs is goaltending because every game counts and a game stolen by Roberto Luongo could mean the difference between winning and losing a series. Since coming back from the Olympic break Luongo has been faltering, including an absolutely abysmal performance in Edmonton two nights ago, so it's nice to see that the Canucks have at least found confidence in their backup goaltending, ending a goaltending carousel that's featured Curtis Sanford, Johan Hedberg, Bob Essensa, Peter Skudra... the list goes on and on. Not that it should ever happen, but if Luongo falters in the playoffs at least Alain Vigneault will have some confidence in Raycroft to put him in net.
A lot of people wondered why Vigneault didn't start Raycroft in Edmonton and then Luongo against a tougher Anaheim squad, but quite simply, I think it was because Vigneault planned to start Luongo every night until the end of the season, maybe save for the last game of the season if it was meaningless. I disagree with D13G0 DA SNIPUR here because I think the worst thing to do to a struggling goalie is staple him to the bench. Get Luongo more games, see more pucks, swallow the bitter pills, and hopes he finds his grove come playoff time. There's no point in giving Raycroft more ice-time if he's not going to start in the playoffs - at most he's an insurance policy the coaching staff can trust.
All things considered the Canucks probably have the division title and home-ice advantage locked up in the first round. The Avalanche are five points away with nine games to play and aren't exactly on a roll, going just 5-4-1 in their last ten. The only difference the last game of the season may make is deciding which team the Canucks will have to play in the first round, and that could mean LA, Colorado, Nashville, or Detroit. Sorry Calgary fans, I don't think so. Just a side note, if the Flames miss the playoffs this year the Sutters will really have to look at themselves in the mirror. The Flames have been taken sideways steps at the most since their Cup run against the Lightning. That Olli Jokinen trade was a do-over (I didn't think he would mesh well with Jarome Iginla in the first place - they're too similar) and that Dion Phaneuf trade may end up hurting them too.
<img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/ap/20100325/capt.10b40c62d7e3432a89a8f77c2c25b681-10b40c62d7e3432a89a8f77c2c25b681-0.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Raycroft, who earns $500,000, is set to be a UFA at the end of the season and don't be surprised if Mike Gillis ends the goaltending carousel now and gives Raycroft a brand-new multi-year deal worth roughly the same money next year. I think it's a foregone conclusion that Cory Schneider won't be sticking around because 1) he's a valuable trade chip and 2) he won't be starting here anytime soon. Several teams will still be in the market for a goalie and if anything Gillis will make his presence felt at the draft, where the Canucks don't have a second or third round pick. By signing Raycroft to a multi-year contract, Gillis and Vigneault will save themselves from the backup goaltender headache and really provide Luongo and the team with some stability. Goalies are developing such different styles and having Raycroft stick around for a little longer provides more familiarity between him and the five other guys on the ice.
Congrats to Henrik Sedin hitting 71 assists, tying a career high, but also moving him to 99 points and the league lead. Given Henrik's current pace, he'll be finishing the year with 109.7 points, which rounded up to 110 will tie him with Pavel Bure (perhaps the best ever Russian scorer) for the franchise record. The Sedins do face an incredible array of goaltending talent in their upcoming games, with Evgeni Nabokov, Ilya Bryzgalov, Miikka Kiprusoff, Niklas Backstrom, and then Craig Anderson and Jonathan Quick. However, if they can pull off anything like Henrik's spin-o-rama backhand pass to Alex Burrows again (they will), the points will come. Props also to George Parros and Darcy Hordichuk for mixing it up on more than one occasion including a very spirited first bout. Michael Grabner was equally impressive with his speed, but as Chris Cuthbert pointed out he's been unwilling to go to the net. He reminds me a lot of a younger Mason Raymond - his wheels just turn too fast for him to think and react at the right time. Kyle Wellwood has really picked up his game lately and when Steve Bernier comes back this team will be really deep up front.
(And I'm terribly sorry Daniel, but I don't believe you were just "throwing the puck at the net." That was a set play and Burrows was the fly-by screen. If Daniel was truly throwing it there for Burrows to fetch the puck should've been shot five feet lower. That puck went top corner blocker side. Take a look at Burrows' route and where his stick was. He wasn't even going to bother tipping it. All he wanted to do was tie up Niedermayer. Video here.)
The Canucks weren't stellar last night even though the score does suggest we dominated. The Canucks had six giveaways last night and four of them came from our defensemen. As much as the Canucks were successful in pinning the Ducks in their own zone, the opposite was true as well and had it not been for Raycroft the score would've been much closer. On more than one occasion Raycroft stood on his head. The Ducks are an interesting story this year, as their offensive production has absolutely gone downhill. After scoring 245 goals last year the Ducks sit only at 205 this year. Everyone except for Jonas Hiller, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan (what a fantastic set of hands he has) seems to have taken a step backwards. The bad news is that Scott Niedermayer may retire at the end of the year, which would end his distinguished career on a low note. If the Ducks finish out of the playoffs it'd be the first time since 1996 Niedermayer has failed to reach the post-season and he's two points shy of 100 career playoff points. The good news is that should Niedermayer retire, the Ducks will have lots of money to play with and their young core is already in place.
The Canucks visit the reeling Sharks Saturday night on CBC.
EDIT: I didn't realize this until I saw this just now, but a fight broke up between a Ducks fan and a Canucks fan last night. I only saw the TSN feed and they didn't say anything about it. Anyway, Mozy did a bang-up job writing it up and I wholeheartedly agree with him.