VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks felt it was just a matter of time before they broke out against the free-falling Colorado Avalanche and claimed another Northwest Division title.
The Canucks became the first team to qualify for the NHL post-season, scoring three third-period goals en route to a 4-2 victory over the Avalanche.
“We’ve been good this year about not panicking when we’re down,” Henrik Sedin said after snapping a 2-2 tie and adding an insurance goal into an empty net.
“We’re playing our game. We know we’re going to get chances. It’s about limiting the other team to as few (goals) as we can.”
Vancouver didn’t do a good job of that in a lacklustre first period as Erik Johnson and Matt Duchene staked the Avalanche to a 2-0 lead.
But the Canucks rallied in the third period as Alex Burrows tied the game and Henrik Sedin took brother Daniel’s through-the-legs drop pass and fired it past goalie Brian Elliott for the lead.
Maxim Lapierre started Vancouver’s comeback to a seventh straight win by planting himself at the top of Elliott’s crease and smacking Chris Higgins’ pass between the goalie’s legs.
“A team like that is good at being patient with their game plan, kept coming, and probably got a lot more confident with the chances they were getting,” Elliott said.
Elliott was lifted for a sixth attacker with two minutes left but the move backfired.
Vancouver improved to 47-16-9 to clinch their fourth Northwest Division title in five years, guaranteeing at least the third seed in the Western Conference.
The streaking Canucks led idle Philadelphia by 10 points in the President’s Trophy race for first overall. They remained 11 points ahead of Detroit in the chase for the Western Conference title.
Colorado has tumbled from the West playoff race, losing 19 of their last 20 games to fall to 26-34-9.
“We stuck with it and finally got some dirty goals,” said Burrows, who went to the net to jam Daniel Sedin’s centring pass under Elliott.
Burrows scored his 21st goal of the season, fourth in seven games and added an assist. Daniel Sedin had two assists as the Canucks’ top line had a six-point night.
“We felt like that on the bench,” Burrows said when asked if it was a matter of time before they handed the Avalanche a ninth straight loss.
“Down 2-0 we had some bad breaks but we knew that if we’d stick with it and get going we’d be all right.
“In the second and third (periods) we had a lot of shots, a lot of chances and if we kept chipping away we’d be fine.”
Canuck defenceman Sami Salo was the victim on both Colorado goals.
He was penalized for interference when Johnson blasted a point shot through a screen. Duchene’s centring pass went in off Salo’s skate 87 seconds later.
“It was just a bad bounce but we’ve had a lot of luck this year so the bounces even out,”said Canuck netminder Cory Schneider, who won his fifth straight start and his 14th game in 19 decisions.
“It’s just tough to put yourself down like that—a power play and a bad bounce. It’s 2-0 and they have life but we did a great job turning the tide.”
Schneider preserved the lead late in the game when Paul Stastny blasted a rebound into his glove.
“I was just trying to get a quick shot,” said Stastny, who returned after missing one game with a back injury.
“Whether I put it right in his glove or he might have made a good save, he was in position obviously. Sometimes those ones go in and tonight not.”
Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said his club played a good road game but the Canucks had a strong third period.
“We’re a team right now that when we get into certain situations we are fragile,” Sacco said. “It’s the same story, we play well but not well enough to win.”
Canuck centre Manny Malhotra was taken to hospital after he was hit in the eye by a puck in the second period.
Coach Alain Vigneault, who spent his 400th game behind the Vancouver bench, said the required treatment was more than stitching a cut but did not expect more information until Thursday.
Notes: Colorado defenceman Adam Foote left the game in the third period after blocking shots with his foot … Sacco said he would be further evaluated on Wednesday … the Canucks now have 105 points, two fewer than club record set in 2006-07 … Henrik Sedin played his 800th game, the fourth Canuck to reach that plateau … the others are Trevor Linden, Stan Smyl and Markus Naslund, whose sweater numbers have been retired.