Canucks getting healthier, feeling better about playoff chances

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VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks are getting a little healthier and feeling a little better about themselves.

Going into Saturday's game against the Detroit Red Wings (10 p.m. ET) they've won three in a row for the first time since December. And the return Thursday of defenceman Kevin Bieksa after missing 49 games with a lascerated calf muscle means the Canucks will be icing their top four rearguards for only the fifth time this season.

"I felt that if we just kept plugging away it was going to come our way and now we're getting more wins," coach Alain Vigneault said Friday after practice. "We deserve more wins."

The wins couldn't be more timely. Before their current streak, the Canucks had only four victories in 16 games. They had gone from fighting for first in the Northwest Division to clinging to the last Western Conference playoff berth entering Friday's play.

Winger Alex Burrows compared the return of Bieksa in the 3-2 shootout win over the Predators in Nashville to getting a good player at Tuesday's trade deadline without giving up anything.

"Having Kevin back is like having a solid, solid D-man back in our lineup," Burrows said. "He brings so much to the table with his speed, his grit, just the way he plays."

Bieksa, who suffered the injury Nov. 1 when he went into the corner with Nashville centre Vern Fiddler, led Canuck defencemen last season with 30 assists and 42 points and was second in ice time to Mattias Ohlund.

He's expected to boost the Canucks' 13th-ranked power play and add scoring for a team desperate for goals.

"He'll be a key guy for us for secondary scoring," said defenceman Willie Mitchell. "The guys who have played with him are confident in his abilities and we're happy to have him back.

"The more he touches the puck the better his timing will come around and the better he'll feel out there."

Bieksa, one of the last players off the ice on Friday, admits his timing is off because of the four-month rehabilitation.

"It's probably going to take a few games before I feel back to myself but that's part of the process," he said. "Once I started skating (Feb. 1), maybe I'm a little surprised how good I felt."

His return against Nashville was ironic.

"Maybe I pushed a little to get back for that game. I didn't get any run-ins with my friend Fiddler, but we've still got one more game (against the Predators)."

Getting a fourth straight win for the first time this season against a Detroit team that has been sagging and is without Norris Trophy defenceman Niklas Lidstrom (right knee sprain) won't be easy.

"They're a heck of a team, they've got great players," Trevor Linden said of the Western Conference leaders who ended a six-game slide with a victory Monday against Colorado. "We're not going to consider where they are, we've just got to worry about ourselves.

"Right now it's not so much about measuring them up against anyone. It's about getting the points because we need them."

Mitchell said the Canucks can't let up against Detroit because Lidstrom is out.

"It's human tendency to kind of let up a little bit," Mitchell said. "They might miss a few guys but we had a back end with one regular (himself) back there. They've still got the offensive firepower up front."

The Canucks might be without Markus Naslund who missed practice Friday with a sore groin. He's listed as day-to-day while Ohlund, who was absent with the flu, is expected to play.

NOTES: Bieksa played 15:48 Thursday down from his average of 24:16 last season ... his return to the lineup prompted the Canucks to re-assign defenceman Nathan McIver to the AHL Manitoba Moose ... the six-foot-two, 205-pound McIver has played 11 games with Vancouver this season.



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