Luongo leads Canucks to top spot in Northwest

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — This time it was Roberto
Luongo’s turn to thank his Vancouver Canucks teammates.

After relying almost exclusively on Luongo to win their last
game, the Canucks only needed 20 saves from the star goalie, and
a second-period power-play goal from Ryan Kesler, to beat the
Los Angeles Kings 1-0 on Thursday night.

Against the 13th-place Kings, Luongo faced one fewer shot all
game than he did in the first period in a 46-save, 4-1 win over
Calgary on Tuesday night.

“Defensively, we really executed well and didn t give them much
room,” said Luongo, who set a career high and moved into a tie
for second in the NHL with his eighth shutout of the season. “As
far as scoring chances are concerned that’s a part of our game
we want to improve on and we did that tonight.”

The Canucks also moved two points ahead of idle Calgary atop the
Northwest Division, but the Flames still control their own
destiny in the race for the third seed in the Western
Conference, and can clinch both by matching Vancouver over their
final two games.

The Canucks will close the regular season in Colorado on
Saturday, while the Flames, who have the tiebreaker with more
wins, will finish with a home-and-home series against Edmonton
on Friday and Saturday.

“There’s a little bit of pressure on them,” said Kesler, who
scored the only goal after being honored as the Canucks’ MVP in
a ceremony before the game.

With Anze Kopitar in the penalty box for holding Mats Sundin
behind the net, Kesler banged in a rebound of a hard shot from
Sundin at the top of the faceoff circle. It was Kesler’s
career-best 26th goal and 59th point of the season.

“You got to give them a show after they pick you MVP,” Kesler
joked of the award decided in fan voting award. “It’s a great
honor for the fans to think of me as an MVP.”

It’s an award Luongo has won in the past, one he deserved when
the Canucks were outshot 47-25 in Tuesday’s game. But he didn’t
need to carry the team Thursday, as the Canucks lived up to a
pledge to tighten up defensively after also giving up 14 goals
in their previous three games — all losses. They only allowed
had 13 shots through two periods — four fewer than Luongo saw
the first 10 minutes against Calgary.

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“There’s still a ways to go but all in all I thought we played
good defensively and Lou had another great game for us and got
the shutout,” Kesler said.

Strangely enough, Luongo said he preferred the game against

“It’s a much tougher night tonight I think than the last one,
just because there’s not that much action so you have to be
sharper mentally,” he said.

Luongo did get an early break when Kings captain Dustin Brown
shot wide of an empty net on a rebound just 3 minutes into the
game. Luongo made his best save with 6:39 left, throwing out his
glove to get a piece of Alexander Frolov’s hard shot from the
high slot off the rush to preserve the 1-0 lead.

“I just missed it,” Brown said of the early chance. “They played
a pretty good game and Luongo made some huge saves in the third
that kept them in it.”

Luongo also got his stick on Kopitar’s shot from the slot with
the Kings totally controlling play shortly after Kesler’s goal
in the second period, a long shift in the Vancouver end that led
to a Canucks timeout. Kopitar had another good chance on a
rebound 8:35 into the third period, but his backhander went
through Luongo’s legs and well wide of the goal.

At the other end, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick faced more — and
harder — chances among his 27 saves. He shot out the left pad
to deny Rick Rypien on a breakaway at the end of a power play,
and sprawled to rob Kyle Wellwood in tight.

“We competed, we battled,” Kings coach Terry Murray said. “At
the end, Vancouver dug in pretty good there. They know how to
shut things down.”

The Canucks, 12-1-1 since Feb. 1 at home, also moved within two
points of fourth-place Chicago. But the Blackhawks only need one
point in their final two games — a home-and-home series with
Detroit — to clinch home-ice advantage in the first round
against either Vancouver or Calgary.