It likely is a matter of time before the Vancouver Canucks officially are eliminated from playoff contention, but they refuse to go quietly.
Heading into Sunday's road clash with the cellar-dwelling Chicago Blackhawks, the Canucks (33-34-5, 71 points) are coming off an impressive 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars.
The Canucks have won two straight games and nine of their past 11. Their intention is to use their positive push to end of this season as proof they can be better in 2023-24.
"That's the goal ... just making sure these last games down the stretch counted for something," goaltender Thatcher Demko said. "We're not a group that's just going to pack it in. Obviously, the beginning of the year didn't go the way we wanted it to, but that doesn't mean you can just quit."
Dallas is in the mix for top spot in the Central Division, but the Canucks won all three meetings this season.
"It's a good confidence builder for the guys when you can beat good teams like that," Canucks coach Rich Tocchet said. "I think it goes a long way with the culture."
It helps the cause when two of the club's key forwards continue to produce. J.T. Miller has recorded four goals and six assists in a five-game point streak, and Elias Pettersson is riding an 11-game point streak in which he's scored five goals and set up 10 others.
"We've been together for a handful of years now and watching his progression has been fun," Demko said of Pettersson. "I'm super proud of the strides he's made. He's a hell of a player and only going to get better."
Chicago (24-42-6, 54 points) has been on the opposite track down the stretch, having lost four in a row and 11 of its past 14 games (3-10-1). The Blackhawks return home following a 3-1 setback to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.
That said, the Blackhawks believe they took a step forward against the Wild, who currently own top spot in the tight-as-a-drum Central Division. After a couple of games being blown out of the water, the Blackhawks hung tough until the game-winning goal was scored by Minnesota's Ryan Hartman with 71 seconds remaining in regulation.
"The last two games ... it was too many goals that we (gave) up," said forward Lukas Reichel, who scored Chicago's lone goal. "It's not good, but (we only gave up) two goals. It was better in the D-zone and in that case, we move on and maybe learn how to win those games."
Chicago sits in the 30th spot in the 32-team league, only one point ahead of both the San Jose Sharks and Columbus Blue Jackets. While the long-term picture is to see what spot they occupy in the draft, the quest on the ice will be to continue that stronger defensive play.
"I thought the guys skated really hard," coach Luke Richardson said. "Disappointing that they didn't get at least a point, get to overtime, but you know, it was just an unfortunate bounce to the end. I think right from the start we played really in their way and frustrated them quite a bit. That was the game plan, the forecheck and tracking and really giving them no room out there."
--Field Level Media