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The Canucks could clinch a playoff berth tonight (with a little help)

The Canucks could be the first team in the NHL this season to officially clinch a spot in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If the Vancouver Canucks want to clinch a playoff berth Monday night, they'll need a little help from the Vegas Golden Knights.

It’s been plainly obvious for almost the entire season that the Vancouver Canucks were going to make the playoffs. 

After missing the playoffs in seven of their last eight seasons, the Canucks stormed out to an incredible start to the 2023-24 season and have been firmly ensconced at the top of the Pacific Division for a long time. In fact, the Canucks are now in the driver’s seat to win the Presidents’ Trophy with the best record in the regular season — they’re in first place in the NHL with an advantage in almost every tie-breaker scenario over their contemporaries. 

It would take a catastrophic collapse for the Canucks to miss the playoffs at this point. But you’re not really a Canucks fan unless you’re considering the worst-case scenario.

In this case, the worst-case scenario does leave open the remote possibility that the Canucks could actually miss the playoffs.

If the Canucks somehow manage to lose all 11 of their remaining games in regulation, they’ll finish the season with 98 points. That total alone would have been enough to easily make the playoffs last season but it technically might not be enough this season. Both the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild — currently outside the playoff picture — could pass 98 points. The Wild would have to win all 11 of their remaining games to get to 99 points, while the Blues would have to win 10 of their last 11 games to reach 99 points.

The upshot is that if the Canucks win just one more game or the Wild lose just one more game, the Canucks will be out of the Wild’s reach. And, if the Canucks win one more game and the Blues lose one more game, they’ll be out of reach of the Blues too, and officially clinch a playoff berth.

That could all happen on Monday night.

There are just two games on the NHL schedule for Monday: the Blues face the Vegas Golden Knights at 5 p.m. PDT and the Canucks face the Los Angeles Kings at 6 p.m. PDT. If the Canucks win and the Blues lose, then the Canucks are officially in the playoffs for the first time since 2020.

Of course, the Canucks might prefer that the Blues beat the Golden Knights.

If the Canucks finish first in the Western Conference, their first-round match-up will be whichever team is in the second Wild Card spot. Right now, that team is the Golden Knights.

The Golden Knights are the defending Stanley Cup Champions. On top of that, they added top-tier players ahead of the trade deadline: a legitimate first-line centre in Tomas Hertl, a top-pairing defenceman in Noah Hanifin, and a borderline top-six winger in Anthony Mantha. In the playoffs, the Golden Knights would presumably be getting a well-rested Mark Stone back from his lacerated spleen as well.

That would understandably be a less-than-ideal match-up for the Canucks. The Golden Knights are a dangerous team with a wealth of postseason experience under their belts, while the Canucks are largely untested in the playoffs. 

It would arguably be a better match-up if the Blues or Wild caught the Golden Knights, causing Vegas to miss the playoffs altogether. The Blues are just four points back from the Golden Knights, making Monday night’s game a crucial one for their playoff hopes. 

If it means a better first-round match-up, maybe the Canucks would rather wait to officially clinch the playoffs on another day.