VANCOUVER, B.C. – Vancouver Canuck fans voted Ryan Kesler as the team’s MVP on Thursday night and he lived up to his billing against the Los Angeles Kings.
Kesler, who started the season on Vancouver’s checking line, scored his career-high 26th goal of the year and Roberto Luongo added 20 saves for a 1-0 victory. The win moved Vancouver two points ahead of the Calgary Flames in the battle for first place in the Northwest Division as the regular season enters the final weekend.
“Yeah, you’ve got to give (the fans) a show after they pick you MVP,” Kesler joked after his third goal in seven games.
“I just tried to play my game, use my speed and I got a couple of chances tonight.”
Kesler, who was aggressive on the forecheck all night, was in the right place to score the only goal on netminder Jonathan Quick during a second period Vancouver power play.
“Mats (Sundin) just threw it on net and it was a perfect placement for me to one-time it and it went underneath him,” said Kesler, who now plies his trade on the Canucks’ second line with Pavol Demitra and Sundin.
Luongo, who stopped 46 shots in a 4-1 win Tuesday over the Calgary Flames, wasn’t tested as often by the Kings but said the inactivity didn’t help at times.
“It was a much tougher night than it was the last one just because there’s just not that much action so you have to be sharper mentally and try to get involved as much as you can,” he said.
Luongo had 21 saves in the first period alone against Calgary but no more than seven in any period against Los Angeles as the Canucks worked on their defensive zone coverage for the last two days.
“Defensively we really executed well and didn’t give them that much room … and we can build off that one,” Luongo said after his club-record eighth shutout of the season to pass the mark set by Dan Cloutier in 2001-02.
The Northwest winner gets the Western Conference’s third seed and home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Canucks, who improved to 44-27-10 with their second straight victory, play their final regular-season game Saturday on the road against the Colorado Avalanche.
The Flames can overtake Vancouver by winning their final two games Friday and Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers.
If Vancouver and Calgary tie for the division title, the Flames get the nod because of more victories.
The Canucks felt Friday’s win could put more pressure on the Flames against arch-rival Edmonton.
“Unfortunately it’s not in our hands any more but first and foremost we wanted to make sure we took care of our business and play well as a team,” Luongo said.
“If it forces them a little bit more, so be it.”
Anze Kopitar came close to knotting the score for the 33-37-11 Kings early in the third period but his backhand went between Luongo’s legs and missed the net.
Luongo also got a glove on a point blank Alexander Frolov attempt late in the period.
“We’re out of the playoffs but there’s still something to learn out of these games,” said Kopitar whose Kings ended the Oilers’ playoff hopes on Tuesday.
“The Canucks are a playoff team and I think that was pretty close to playoff intensity out there tonight.”
Los Angeles coach Terry Murray said the Canucks could do well in the post-season.
“I like their group there,” Murray said. “They’ve got a nice back end, they’ve got a good goaltender in Luongo”.
“If they get things going, they should be a pretty good team in the playoffs”.
NOTES: It was the second time Luongo blanked the Kings this season. … Other awards were Willie Mitchell, outstanding defenceman, Alex Burrows, most exciting player and Steve Bernier, unsung hero. … The Oilers say they will start rookie backup goalie Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers in both games against the Flames. … He won his only start against Calgary. … The Kings, who missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year, end their season at home Saturday against the San Jose Sharks.