VANCOUVER – There’s no goaltending controversy in Vancouver, and that’s bad news for teams on the outside edge of the Western Conference playoff picture.
Backup Cory Schneider turned in a stellar 43-save performance Wednesday in the Canucks 1-0 shutout of the desperate Colorado Avalanche.
On Monday, Vancouver got a 38-save, 1-0 blanking of the equally playoff hungry Los Angeles Kings from No. 1 netminder Roberto Luongo.
Chris Higgins staked the Canucks to the only lead of Wednesday’s win with a short-handed breakaway, but it was the backup Schneider who calmly withstood the Avalanche barrage.
And he’s not even thinking about becoming the leading man ahead of Luongo in the playoffs.
“Not at all,” said Schneider who’s 11-1-1 since Christmas, fifth in the NHL in goals-against average, second in save percentage and a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
“I think Lou and I are so beyond that, we both respect the heck out of each other and we just root each other on and whoever is in net we have a good feeling they are going to win.
“Lou’s played great the last three games, not to mention the entire year basically, so I think clearly he’s the guy that’s going to start to and if it’s necessary for me to hop in at some point, so be it. I’m not worried about what’s going to happen in two weeks.”
The victory was Vancouver’s sixth in as many games this season over Colorado and left the Avalanche little margin for error as they chase a Western Conference playoff berth.
The Canucks (47-21-9) won their fourth straight game to continue their pursuit of St. Louis for the overall lead in the NHL and the West.
Vancouver is two points behind the Blues and cannot finish lower than second in the conference.
The Avalanche (40-33-6) lost a fourth straight game and 15th in their last 17 outings against the Canucks.
They are tenth in the West, two points out of eighth with only three games left in their regular season. Other teams in the hunt have games in hand.
Coach Joe Sacco said he was proud of his club’s effort despite not cashing in on scoring chances that included five power plays and a two-man advantage for a minute 34 seconds.
“I think we certainly left everything out there on the ice surface and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t come away with at least one, or score a goal here tonight,” Sacco said.
“We threw everything we could at them in the second and third period and their goalie was good.”
Canuck coach Alain Vigneault agreed: “Our goaltender was obviously the best player on the ice tonight.”
The Avalanche outworked the Canucks and built an 8-1 shots advantage early in the first period but gave up the short-handed goal to Higgins.
Canuck penalty-killer Sammy Pahlsson stripped the puck from Matt Hunwick in the neutral zone and forwarded it to a streaking Higgins on a breakaway.
Higgins, who scored twice Saturday in Denver—including the overtime game-winner—beat goalie Semyon Varlamov with a stick-side shot for his 16th of the season.
“Sammy just waited for me to get that half-step on the defenceman,” Higgins said after his 16th goal of the season.
“He could have thrown it up right away but he took the time to wait for me to get open.”
Higgins said the Canucks are comfortable in low-scoring, one-goal games that build to the intensity of the playoffs.
“This is good practice,” said Higgins who has found his game after leaving the lineup twice in December with bacterial infections and then had bad reactions to the drugs treating them.
“It’s going to be a little more intense with the crowds and everything in the playoffs but we’re getting comfortable in the situations.
“You’d like to be up 2-0, 3-0 toward the end and not put it all on Schneids’shoulder to make the big stops. It could go in off a skate or an errant stick.”
Paul Sastny, thwarted by a sprawling Schneider on a Colorado power play, said the Avs were playing for their playoff lives.
“We just had to give it all we had and put as much rubber on the net, cause confusion, traffic in front of the net,” he said. “It obviously wasn’t enough.”
Former Canuck Shane O’Brien said the Avalanche aren’t done yet.
“Anything can happen,” the defenceman said. “Teams that have games in hand, they could still lose. We’re going to fight to the bitter end until we’re mathematically done. But this one definitely stings a bit.”
The Canucks filled their 18,890-seat arena for the 400th consecutive game, including 43 playoff contests.
Only baseball’s Boston Red Sox and the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks have longer active sellout streaks among North American sports franchises.
Notes: Vancouver defenceman Aaron Rome missed a second consecutive game with a knee injury from a hit Saturday by Chuck Kobasew. The league fined the Avalanche forward $2,500 … Canuck Kevin Bieksa, who had what the club called a maintenance day on Tuesday, took the morning skate but did not play … Schneider blanked the Avalanche 3-0 on Nov. 23 and shared a 6-0 shutout with Luongo on Dec. 6.