Canucks still have hopes for Northwest crown - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

Canucks still have hopes for Northwest crown

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Vancouver (44-27-10) at Colorado (32-44-4), 3:00 p.m. EDT

DENVER (AP) -- Heading into the final weekend of the season, the

Vancouver Canucks are still vying for their third division title

in five years. To take another step toward that goal, they'll

need to beat one of the league's doormats or get some help from

a Northwest rival.

The Canucks close out 2008-09 on Saturday at the Pepsi Center

against the last-place Colorado Avalanche.

First-place Vancouver (44-27-10) holds a two-point lead over

Calgary, which concludes a home-and-home set with Edmonton on

Saturday night. The Oilers helped out the Canucks with a 5-1

rout of the Flames on Friday.

"Those back-to-back games are never an easy task, especially

against the Oilers," Vancouver's Alex Burrows told the Canucks'

official Web site.

Vancouver needs just one point from this contest to win the

division and clinch the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. If

the Canucks lose and the Flames beat the Oilers in regulation,

both teams would have 98 points but Calgary holds the

tiebreaker.

With increased defensive intensity, Vancouver has managed to

overcome a rough stretch. The Canucks had given up 14 goals

during a three-game skid, including a 4-1 loss to Colorado

(32-44-4) on Sunday, but have bounced back to surrender just one

en route to winning their last two.

Roberto Luongo had 20 saves in a 1-0 win over Los Angeles on

Thursday, setting a career high with his eighth shutout of the

season two days after making 46 saves in a 4-1 win over Calgary.

Luongo has started 34 of the last 36 games since missing two

months with a groin injury. He is 1-1-1 with a 2.27

goals-against average in three matchups with Colorado this

season, struggling in Sunday's matchup.

Vancouver also had a tough time offensively in that contest. The

Canucks have managed one goal in two of their last three games,

getting their lone score Thursday from Ryan Kesler on a power

play.

"As far as scoring chances are concerned that's a part of our

game we want to improve on," Luongo said.

Colorado has allowed three goals in its last three games, going

1-0-2. The Avalanche, last in the West, lost 3-2 in a shootout

with Dallas on Thursday.

This is the second time in three years Colorado will miss the

postseason after making the playoffs the previous 11 seasons.

After Thursday's game, the Avalanche got even more bad news when

captain Joe Sakic announced he would not play in the season

finale Sunday against St. Louis. The 39-year-old center, in his

20th season, said the strength in his left leg hasn't fully

returned after January surgery to repair a herniated disk.

Sakic may have played the last game of his career Nov. 28 at

Phoenix, when a balky back forced him to leave the ice. He

damaged his left hand in a snow blower accident at his home in

December and underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk while

sidelined.

Sakic is eighth on the NHL's career list in points (1,641) and

11th in assists (1,016). He isn't the only player that has been

shelved by Colorado this season.

The injury-riddled Avalanche have had 11 players make their NHL

debuts. Only the league-worst New York Islanders have had more

players (12) play their first NHL game in 2008-09.

T.J. Galiardi, a 20-year-old winger, scored the second and third

goals of his career in Sunday's matchup with Vancouver, which

had won two straight in the season series after losing the first

two meetings in shootouts.

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