The return of injured forwards Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler to practice sparked a sliver of optimism as the Canucks prepared to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive Sunday at home against the Buffalo Sabres. But hard-luck winger Alex Burrows' absence due to a hand injury was ominous.
Burrows was injured of the third period of Thursday's 2-0 victory over Nashville. Shea Weber slashed him on the hand while Alex Edler was scoring an insurance goal. The Canuck has already battled a broken foot and jaw along with a lengthy scoring drought from which he had recently escaped.
"It's been one of those years for (Burrows)," said Canucks coach John Tortorella. "He's spent a lot of time with the trainers and Roger (Takahashi, the team's strength and conditioning coach), and he finds his game. I'm not sure what's going to happen, whether his misses or, if he does, how many. But it's been a very difficult time for him, especially (with) the way he plays, so we'll see what happens."
Tortorella said he had not spoken to Burrows since he got hurt, but general manager Mike Gillis told a Vancouver newspaper that the analysis on his injury was not positive and his status does not look good.
Accordingly, Tortorella was not ready to rejoice after Sedin and Kesler hit the ice for their first full workout since getting hurt earlier this month. Tortorella said he will see how they have fared after another workout Saturday and then determine whether they can play against the Sabres.
Sedin and Kesler made similar comments, but Sedin was still encouraged by the results of his first workout since he was injured in a collision with Ottawa defenceman Marc Methot during the Heritage Classic.
"Anything could happen, of course," he said. "But if I feel good enough to play, I'm going to play. I was excited about (Friday) and we'll see how it is (Saturday.)"
The Canucks (32-30-10) have won four of their past seven games, but trail the eighth-place Phoenix Coyotes by five points. Tortorella and his crew face an increasingly daunting challenge to make the playoffs with 10 regular-season games remaining, and know they can't take the last-overall Sabres (20-42-8) for granted.
Sedin expressed the need for the Canucks to stick to the one-game-at-a-time mantra and avoid watching what other teams do in the standings. But he did not downplay the magnitude of Vancouver's challenge.
"We have to go on a big (win) streak," he said. "Yeah, we've probably got to win at least eight out of 10. We'll see what happens. We still feel like we have a chance, and we have to do everything we can to get back in the race."
Meanwhile, Kesler, who was injured in a knee-on-knee collision with Winnipeg's Jim Slater on March 12, vowed to proceed cautiously as he attempts to get back in the lineup.
The injury has forced him to miss four games, but he indicated that his return is imminent.
"I knew from day one it wasn't going to be long," he said. "The next day, it wasn't that sore."
He expressed no ill will towards Slater, a 31-year-old Petosky, Mich., native.
"I thought he stuck his leg out, but you never want to think that a player does that intentionally, especially (considering) I kind of grew up with him," said Kesler, a 29-year-old from Livonia, Mich. "Let's just move on and keep going."
Kesler's eventual return bodes well for the Canucks, because he leads the team with 22 goals. He could also help make up for Burrows' expected absence while bolstering the second line.
But unlike Sedin, the centre will be paying close attention to other teams' results as the playoffs approach rapidly.
"Obviously, we need help to make playoffs," said Kesler. "You've got to watch the scoreboard. But at the same time, we've got to take care of business in here. The last two games, the guys did a good job of that. … We've just got to keep going."
Unlike Daniel Sedin and goaltender Eddie Lack, he did not call for the Canucks to go on a big run of wins. In Kesler's view, it will be "a little overwhelming" if the club focuses on the number of games that it must win to qualify for the post-season.
"It's a cliche, but we've got to focus on the next game and the next practice and just keep going until we clinch a spot," he said.
A long win streak does not appear likely, considering that the Canucks have not won two games in a row since they beat Calgary on Jan. 18 and Edmonton on Jan. 21.
But Tortorella, whose job security has been increasingly questioned in wake of his suspension for storming the Calgary Flames dressing room in the Jan. 18 game and the decision to sit since-departed No. 1 goaltender Roberto Luongo in the Heritage Classic, said his players will stay focused if they keep close tabs on other teams' games.
"I'm not a big one to do it," he said. "But, certainly, the situation that we're in, I want them to watch the scoreboards. But we have to win. It doesn't matter who we're watching. If we don't take care of our business, it goes by the boards."
Scoreboard-watching aside, there is little doubt that Vancouver players will be checking to see how soon injured players can return. Defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who has dealt with lengthy absences in two past successive seasons, felt badly for Burrows.
However, Bieksa was glad to see Sedin and Kesler back on the ice for a full practice.
"We need the help right now," said Bieksa. "We've had a lot of important injuries this year that have hurt us, and to get two of our best forwards back is a good thing for us."
Notes — News of Sedin and Kesler's return to practice overshadowed discussion on Sabres centre Cody Hodgson's rare return to Vancouver. Hodgson's trade to Buffalo from Vancouver at the NHL trade deadline in February 2012, essentially for Zack Kassian, who has not lived up to his billing as a prototypical power forward who can score, still perturbs many Canucks fans. … Canucks rookie Nicklas Jensen is on a four-game points streak, while Henrik Sedin and the much-maligned Alex Edler have produced points in three consecutive contests.