VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks are going back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in four seasons and second time in the past nine, an achievement few outside the team predicted when the season started.

That doesn’t mean the Canucks (46-20-8) are content to simply make the playoffs, even if they were the first Canadian team and third from the Western Conference to do so. Expectations have been raised by their turnaround this season.

“Coming into the situation, we were supposed to be a bubble [team], whatever the people were saying, and it was good that the players didn't hear the outside noise or at least believe it themselves,” coach Rick Tocchet said. “You can't sit on 'Hey we're a playoff team and we're at 100-point team.’ You can enjoy it for a moment, but we really got to work on our game.

“I congratulated the players today. I thought they did a (heck) of a job this year to get us to this situation but now it's ‘go time.’ We need some guys to find their game. Our team has got to find our game, so that's the next thing but you still have to commend the players.”

The Canucks, who clinched a playoff spot when the St. Louis Blues lost 4-0 to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, haven’t made the playoffs since 2019-20, when they lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in seven games in the Western Conference Second Round.

Vancouver defeated the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 on Sunday to reach 100 points in a season for the first time since 2014-15.

“I think I downplayed it just because of how good of a year it's been,” Canucks captain Quinn Hughes said of getting back into the playoffs. “We’ve expected to be there the last month or two, whatever it's been. I got a couple of text messages last night saying congrats and whatnot. It does mean a lot, especially with how the last couple of years have been. I don’t think we were very good [against Anaheim] so we’ve got to ramp it up a bit here, but it’s nice that we’re going to be there.”

Vancouver leads the Pacific Division by five points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers, who have played one fewer game. The Canucks are three points behind the Dallas Stars for the top spot in the Western Conference, and four back of the New York Rangers in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy atop the NHL.

“Very exciting for the team, for the city, the organization,” forward Dakota Joshua said. “We can feel how important it is, not only player to player but for everybody involved. It was a goal of ours when we started off. Just to get into the dance is the first step and then you go from there. Nice to get that behind us and build.”

The Canucks are already 17 points better this season than they finished last year, when they were 38-37-7 for 83 points. They’re on pace for 111 points, a 28-point year-over-year improvement that would rank second in team history.

An improved defensive identity has been a big part of the turnaround, with Vancouver knocking more than a goal off their goals-against average since Tocchet was hired to replace Bruce Boudreau on Jan. 23, 2023. The Canucks were second to last in the NHL giving up 3.96 goals per game at that point, but currently rank fifth at 2.64 goals against per game.

“It’s part of the goal but we’re not there yet,” forward J.T. Miller said of making the playoffs “Our day-to-day mindset this entire year has been great and that certainly doesn't change now. We created expectations and standards and an identity and a winning culture. We're trying to do all that and so, this is part of the territory you want to get into.”

Vancouver has not hosted a playoff game since 2015, when they lost to the Calgary Flames in six games in the Western Conference First Round, before the team drafted core players forward Brock Boeser (2015), forward Elias Pettersson (2017), and Hughes (2018). The Canucks have never won the Stanley Cup but made the Final three times, the most recently in 2011 when they lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games.

“I'm just focused on finishing strong and as a group what we can do to go into playoffs playing our best hockey,” Hughes said. “And then when the time comes, we'll enjoy, hopefully, a cool fan experience and player experience.”