VANCOUVER, British Columbia - You could credit the Blackhawks in more than one way for what the Vancouver Canucks are now.
At least, that's the way it sounds.
The Canucks are perched atop not only the Western Conference, but the entire NHL. They're one of the hottest teams in the league, overwhelming opponents with their depth up front and on the blue line, which will get even deeper when veteran Sami Salo returns.
"We look at the conference and where they're at, they're in the spot we'd all like to be in," coach Joel Quenneville said. "They're missing some defensemen and they're pitching shutouts on the road. Across the board, they've got a lot of enthusiasm in their lineup right now. They're getting contributions across the board. They're playing a fast game. They've got a lot skill in their lineup. I don't think you can say it's just the Sedin twins you have to worry about."
He's right especially with Ryan Kesler developing into a premier two-way forward. But there is more to their ascension.
When the Hawks eliminated the Canucks for the second consecutive year in the playoffs, it was time for a good look in the mirror. Unlike the Hawks, Vancouver could add to its mix, not subtract.
So general manager Mike Gillis brought in Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard to bolster a defense the Hawks made fools of with their speed and toughness. Henrik Sedin replaced goalie Roberto Luongo as captain, while new addition Manny Malhotra strengthened the leadership group.
"It was a combination of a bunch of things when we analyzed our team," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "The team that won the Cup -- Chicago -- was probably the better team. It's not always the better team that wins. But on paper and what they did on the ice, they were the better team. We knew we had some adjustments to make.
"Mike made some key acquisitions in the summer that not only improved us talent-wise, but improved our core group and fit in really well with the leadership group that we had. It was important that we do that so that we can work on being able to take the next step."
It didn't pan out at first. It took another butt-kicking by the Hawks to really wake them up. The Hawks came into Rogers Arena, a building they've had major success in, and pasted the Canucks in a 7-1 victory on Nov. 20. It was their fifth straight win in Vancouver, including the playoffs.
Although a few Canucks and Vigneault shrugged off the significance of the loss when speaking to the media Friday, others said it was important - the cliched turning point of their season.
A players-only meeting followed and so has an impressive run. Since that loss, Vancouver has gone 24-4-6, including their 4-3 win over the Hawks on Friday.
"We really dug down and knew that what we were doing out there wasn't good enough," defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "We had to get better and I think we've gotten better every week of the season.
"[Because] it was a team that we dislike so much and a team that's had our number in the past, maybe it did mean a little bit more."