Canucks, Ducks set for pivotal battle

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By Brett Huston

Stats Writer

Anaheim (39-32-6) at Vancouver (42-25-9), 10 p.m. EDT

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- The Vancouver Canucks have

picked up an NHL-best 41 points since the beginning of February,

making them a team no one wants to face in the postseason.

Based on their play over the past two weeks, no one figures to

be anxious to face the Anaheim Ducks, either.

The Ducks must first qualify for the playoffs, and earning two

key points Wednesday night in Vancouver won't be easy as the

Canucks return to GM Place looking for their 12th straight home

win.

Vancouver (42-25-9) was 12 points behind Calgary in the

Northwest Division at the end of January, but are now hockey's

hottest team. The Canucks are 20-5-1 since Feb. 1, and lead the

second-place Flames by one point with six games remaining.

The Canucks and Flames will meet for the final time in the

regular season on Tuesday in Vancouver.

"Back in January not many people thought we'd be in the spot we

are, but we've worked hard for where we are," said Roberto

Luongo, who went 4-2-0 with a 1.75 goals-against average on

Vancouver's six-game road trip. "We need to make sure here in

the last few games that we keep pushing and try to get that

third seed."

The Ducks (39-32-6) waited considerably longer to start

performing like a playoff team, but have recently made a

considerable move up the standings. Anaheim was 12th in the

Western Conference on March 18 - five points out of playoff

position - but it's won seven of eight to rise into a tie for

seventh.

The only loss in that stretch came against Edmonton on Friday,

but the Ducks got revenge on Tuesday, scoring three power-play

goals in a 5-3 road win over the Oilers.

"We were not in the playoff picture for a while," said Anaheim

defenseman Scott Niedermayer, who had a goal and two assists.

"We're just putting everything else aside, forgetting about the

standings and things like that. Forget about who's doing what

and just plugging away, and that's what we have to keep doing."

Niedermayer has been one of the catalysts to a surge that's been

built largely on success with the man advantage. The Ducks are a

stunning 14-for-36 (38.9 percent) on the power play in their

last eight games, and Niedermayer and fellow defenseman Chris

Pronger have combined for 13 points.

Anaheim can't afford to let up, though, as five teams separated

by just three points are fighting for the final two playoff

slots in the West.

"We're just giving ourselves a chance to live another day and

that's all you can do," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said.

Securing their first win in four trips to Vancouver will be a

difficult challenge. The Canucks haven't lost at home since Jan.

31, outscoring their opponents 42-19 during their

franchise-record 11-game home winning streak.

Thursday's contest also will be their first at home since March

19. After dropping two of three to start their swing, Vancouver

won its next three, and with a 2-1 overtime victory in Minnesota

on Tuesday jumped past idle Calgary into the division lead.

Henrik Sedin scored in overtime, and he's tallied seven goals

and nine assists in his past 11 games. Over that stretch, the

line of Alex Burrows, Henrik and twin brother Daniel Sedin have

combined for 19 goals and 41 points.

"They've done it in pressure moments, and that's good for us

with the playoffs around the corner," Canucks coach Alain

Vigneault said.

Anaheim's top line, meanwhile, has done pretty well for itself

lately. Ryan Getzlaf, rookie Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry have

combined for 27 points in the Ducks' last eight games.

Perry has a goal and six assists against Vancouver this season,

though the Canucks have won two of the three meetings. Five of

Perry's points came in a 7-6 shootout loss on Oct. 31.

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