The Stanley Cup Playoffs have been tightly contested so far. Almost every series is tied at one game apiece, with only the Colorado Avalanche and Carolina Hurricanes charging out to a 2-0 lead.
In other words, most of the series could go any way, at this point. Even a 2-0 series lead isn’t unassailable. Maybe, if the Vancouver Canucks had been able to sneak into the playoffs, they would likewise be right there in the mix to move on from the first round.
After all, the Canucks had a better goal differential at the end of the season — +13 — than two teams that made the playoffs in the Western Conference: the Los Angeles Kings (+3) and Dallas Stars (-8). In their place, maybe the Canucks would be tied up 1-1 with the Edmonton Oilers or Calgary Flames.
But how did the Canucks stack up against playoff teams during the regular season? Let’s take a look.
At a most basic level — wins and losses — the Canucks went 15-19-8 against teams that made the playoffs. That’s not great. At the most optimistic, that’s just four games under .500, with a points percentage of .452. More cynically, they won 15 and lost 27 of their 42 games against playoff teams — that’s a .357 record if overtime and shootout losses are just treated as losses.
At least they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in both of their meetings, which is some consolation.
The Canucks were out-scored 123-to-107 in those 42 games, with the most lopsided scoring coming against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who out-scored the Canucks 8-2 in their two meetings.
Of course, that’s not entirely surprising. You would expect a non-playoff team to have a losing record against playoff teams — that’s why one team is in the playoffs and the other isn’t.
Compare that to, say, the top-of-the-Pacific Calgary Flames. They went 20-11-7 against playoff teams for a points percentage .618. They won more games than they lost, even if only by two games, and picked up at least a point in almost three-quarters of their games against playoff teams.
Against non-playoff teams, the Canucks fared much better. They were 25-10-5 against teams that missed the playoffs, sweeping their season series against the Montreal Canadiens, Winnipeg Jets, San Jose Sharks, Seattle Kraken, and Arizona Coyotes.
Non-playoff teams are also the source of the Canucks’ positive goal differential. They out-scored non-playoff teams 142-to-113 — +29 — with the biggest chunks of that coming against the bottom-of-the-standings Kraken and Coyotes, who they outscored 36-to-11 in seven games combined.
Again, that’s not entirely surprising. A team that was in a playoff race ought to have out-scored a team at the bottom of the standings and a winning record against teams that missed the playoffs makes sense.
Turning to the Flames again, they dominated non-playoff teams to an even greater degree, going 30-10-4.
But, what if we just look at the Boudreau-coached Canucks? Do things improve?
Well, a little bit. The Canucks were 13-11-7 against playoff teams under Boudreau, meaning they still lost five more games than they won but at least got points in the majority of their games.
The goal differential was a lot closer, as they were only out-scored 85-to-84. That’s buoyed significantly by their two games against the Dallas Stars, which they won with a combined 10-3 score.
What’s more troubling is that the Canucks struggled against Western Conference teams, the ones they would be facing in the playoffs.
The Canucks were pushing to take either the third spot in the Pacific from the Los Angeles Kings or one of the Wild Card spots from the Stars or Nashville Predators. Against those teams, the Canucks were great, particularly under Boudreau, with a 5-1-1 record combined.
Against the rest of the Western Conference — the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers — who they would need to get past in the playoffs, they didn’t do so well.
Overall, the Canucks won just two games against those five teams, going 2-10-5. Even under Boudreau, the Canucks were 2-6-4 against those five teams at the top of the Western Conference, and were out-scored 40-to-29.
That includes losing all three games they played against the Wild and all three games they played against the Blues. The Canucks also lost every game against the Oilers, though they kept it close, taking three of their four losses to overtime.
That’s the challenge facing the Canucks this offseason — how do they get good enough to compete with the best teams in the West? It’s all well and good to rack up wins against the teams at the bottom of the standings, but the Canucks need to set loftier goals.
If the Canucks want to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, they need to be able to beat the best teams in the Western Conference.