It was about this time last season that the Vancouver Canucks had won three straight with slim hopes to continue the surge into one of the final Western Conference playoff spots.
The Colorado Avalanche ended the winning streak and the Canucks concluded the season with losses in six of eight, finishing well out of contention.
They’re again in position for a fourth straight win Thursday night against visiting Colorado, but this year the Canucks are much more in control of their fate.
Vancouver (43-26-4), second in the Pacific Division with 90 points while Calgary and Los Angeles sit close behind, put itself in a position to match a season-best winning streak with Tuesday’s 5-2 home victory over Winnipeg. It’s also won seven of nine.
"I’m not a mathematician, so to speak, but I know if we keep winning games, we’ll make it," Kevin Bieksa told the team’s official website. "We control our own destiny and we have nine games left, if we win seven of them it helps and we’re securely in the playoffs. You want to get into the playoffs and finish as high as you can, I think home ice advantage is pretty important if you can get it, it’s an added bonus."
Radim Vrbata had two goals and an assist, giving him three goals and four assists in the last three games heading into a matchup with an Avalanche team that’s kept him without a goal in 11 straight games.
Vrbata’s been a significant addition as the Canucks have improved an offense that ranked 28th in scoring a season ago with 2.33 goals per game. In 2014-15, they’re in the top 10 (2.84).
"Once he gets the puck on his stick you see the first couple strides and there’s no chance of catching him," Henrik Sedin said.
Henrik had a goal and two assists against the Jets, while Daniel Sedin added a pair of assists to extend a point streak to five games with two goals and six assists. Henrik Sedin has scored in three straight games against Colorado.
This game decides the three-game series after the teams split the first two meetings in Denver during the first month of the season, and the desperate Avalanche (33-28-12) are concluding a five-game road trip in a situation similar to what Vancouver faced a season ago.
Playoff hopes for the Avalanche are all but over, especially after Wednesday’s 4-3 loss in Edmonton dropped them to 0-2-1 since winning six of seven. They trail Winnipeg by 10 points with a game in hand and nine to play.
"It was a big game for us to stay up in the standings," defenseman Nick Holden said. "Not getting those points is killer. We still have nine games left and you never know. We need to keep pushing right to the end and hopefully we get some luck."
Ryan O’Reilly remained hot with a goal and two assists to help Colorado even things after a 3-0 first-period deficit, and the left wing has nine points on a five-game point streak.
Semyon Varlamov was announced as the starter of both games in the back-to-back set prior to the loss to the Oilers, but he allowed three goals on the first seven shots he faced and was pulled after less than 10 minutes. He’d won six straight prior to his current three-game stretch with a 0-1-1 record and 4.18 goals-against average.
Varlamov is 3-1-0 against Vancouver over the past two seasons despite a 2.99 GAA.
Counterpart Eddie Lack continues to fill in impressively for Ryan Miller with a 6-2-1 record and 1.95 GAA in 10 games. He’s 0-1-1 with a 4.96 GAA against Colorado, including a 7-3 road loss on Oct. 24 in which he was pummeled with 48 shots.