RATHBONE LEADS CANUCKS TO CLINCHING PLAYOFFS AFTER 3-1 WIN OVER LAVAL
ABBOTSFORD, BC - Defenceman Jack Rathbone has returned to form and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Abbotsford Canucks.
Since Rathbone returned to the Canucks’ lineup after he suffered an upper-body injury on Feb. 16 against the Bakersfield Condors, the team’s coaching staff, led by head coach Trent Cull, have made sure to be patient with the 22-year-old.
Cull has always stressed the importance of giving players, especially those who return from injury, at least five games before he can properly assess.
For Rathbone, his peak form was on display when the team defeated the Laval Rocket 6-1 on Saturday. He finished with three assists, along with a plus-2 rating and was named the third star of the game.
“That was his best performance since he’s been back from the injury for sure,” Cull said after that game. “It takes guys a little bit of time, right? Because it’s hard when you first come back, you want to do well, but you’ve got to get yourself back in a rhythm. It was nice to see him find his way tonight.”
More importantly for the Canucks, the 6-1 victory over Laval put the team at a 31-21-5-1 record for 68 points. They only needed at one point to clinch a playoff spot.
Abbotsford had the opportunity to do less than 24 hours later. It was scheduled to play host to Laval again at the Abbotsford Centre once again.
Just like the night before, Rathbone is the middle of everything.
He got his 25th assist of the season when forward Sheldon Rempal scored at 15:31 of the first period on the power play to open the scoring for the Canucks.
It was his Rempal’s 28th goal of the season, extending his goal streak to three games. Forward John Stevens got the secondary assist.
All three players who contributed to that goal are on four-game point streaks as well.
Rathbone wasn’t finished though.
With the game tied at one, he scored what would turn out to be the game winner at 15:33 of the third period. It is a goal that will be forever etched in the team’s history.
Just like that, as they defeated Laval 3-1 on the team’s Women in Sports Night on Sunday. Abbotsford was going to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
“It’s huge,” Rathbone said. “That’s been our goal ever since we started here. I know (head coach Trent Cull) was happy. We kind of knew in the back of our heads what was on the line tonight and it was fun to get it done.”
He sure was.
“It was great,” Cull said. “We just had a little chit-chat in the locker room and said how proud I am and what we’ve done and how many guys have been part of us making the playoffs. Whether they were here now or weren’t here to start with but have come and joined us… just that next man up. We talked about the opportunity. It’s not easy getting into the playoffs. I’m ecstatic that we gave ourselves a chance to play in the post-season.”
However, the work is not done. Even after clinching a playoff spot, the Canucks are well aware that they are still in a fight for home-ice advantage.
“(Clinching the playoffs is) definitely a huge accomplishment for us. I think, obviously, we would like to pick up more points along the way so that maybe we can play in front of this home crowd a little bit more and have some home ice. You saw the atmosphere in the building, especially in the last four games. We thrive off it. It’s fun playing in front of fans and definitely something we don’t take for granted.”
With how the standings are beginning to shape up, it’s more than likely that Abbotsford will play Bakersfield in the first-round of the American Hockey League’s 2022 Calder Cup playoff tournament in a best-of-three series.
Both Bakersfield and Abbotsford have 70 points. The only thing is, the Condors have one game in hand.
“Home-ice advantage would be an amazing thing if that was a possibility,” Cull stated. “That’s something we want to shoot for. Just because you’ve clinched a playoff spot, it doesn’t mean change the way you were playing. You want to be playing as good as you possibly can. It’s definitely not a light switch. We’re going to have adversity to deal with, with guys coming back from injuries and guys maybe getting sent down from Vancouver, if that is possible. We’ll have enough hiccups to deal with, so we want to make sure sure we’re still working and doing what we do.”
Despite all the adversity for Rathbone, he’s been a big part of why the Canucks have gotten to this point. He is ranked No. 6 in Canucks scoring with 33 points this season. Not only that, he leads all Abbotsford defenceman in points, goals and assists.
Oh, he’s only played 30 games too.
“It’s been a weird season,” Rathbone said. “There’s been a lot of stop and go. I heard (head coach Trent Cull) mentioned it the other day that it’s tough trying to get into a rhythm.
“I’m finally starting to feel like I am.”
Just in time for the playoffs and a battle for home-ice advantage.
The Abbotsford Canucks (32-21-5-1) will play host to the San Diego Gulls (27-26-3-1) at the confines of the Abbotsford Centre on Friday. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00PM PST. It will be the Canucks’ first of two Fan Appreciation Nights too.
NEWS AND NOTES
Canucks defenceman Jack Rathbone finished with a goal and an assist along with a plus-1 rating. That extended his point streak (one goal and seven assists) to four games.
Abbotsford forward Sheldon Rempal finished with a goal and led the team with four shots on net. He extended his point streak (two goals and three assists) to four games.
Canucks forward John Stevens finished with a goal and an assist, along with a plus-1 rating. He extended his point streak (five goals and two assists) to four games. He also is on a goal streak in the same number of games.
Abbotsford defenceman Devante Stephens finished with an assist and a plus-1 rating, along with one shot on net.
Canucks goaltender Mikey DiPietro made 32 saves for his 11th win on the season. He has a .937 save percentage over his last seven starts.
Canucks defenceman Noah Juulsen did not play. He remains day-to-day with illness.
Abbotsford forward Tristen Nielsen didn’t finish the game when the team defeated Laval 6-1 on Saturday. He is injured and didn’t play.
Canucks forward Nicolas Guay returned to the lineup.
FIRST STAR — ABB’s Jack Rathbone (a goal, an assist, along with a plus-1 rating)
SECOND STAR — ABB’s Mikey DiPietro (32 saves)
THIRD STAR — LAV’s Xavier Oullet (a goal)