DENVER – The Vancouver Canucks didn’t pop any corks to celebrate their Northwest Division crown.
In fact, the atmosphere in the locker room was subdued and serene.
Sure, there was some stick slapping and a couple of hearty laughs, yet that was the extent of the revelry after Henrik Sedin’s goal 40 seconds into overtime lifted Vancouver to a 1-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.
The message was this: Division titles are nice, but the playoffs await.
By edging Calgary for first place, Vancouver’s second division crown in three seasons, the Canucks also locked up the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs in their final game of the regular season. Vancouver (45-27-10) will enter the post-season on a three-game winning streak.
It’s been a long climb back to the top of the division.
“A lot of people thought we wouldn’t be able to accomplish this,” Canucks forward Alex Burrows said. “We were 14 or 15 points behind Calgary in January, and nobody probably thought it was possible. But we kept working and got better.”
The Canucks secured the division title once the game reached overtime. Had they lost in regulation, it would have set the stage for Calgary to win it with a victory over Edmonton on Saturday night. The Flames had a tiebreaker edge over the Canucks.
Vancouver played the final 20 minutes like it was protecting a one-goal lead.
The tactic worked.
“You’re always trying to play smart in a 0-0 hockey game,” defenceman Willie Mitchell said. “With a division title on the line, you’re a little more aware of it. This is a really good feeling.”
Sedin scored the winning goal by banking in a shot off the skate of Colorado defenceman Scott Hannan. It was his 22nd goal of the season.
“I was throwing it across to Daniel (Sedin) on the other side, and I was just lucky it hit his skate and went in,” he said. “It’s nice to get the win.”
One that called for a little champagne, if Mitchell had his way.
“We’ve got to be like baseball – if you win the division, there’s champagne,” he said. “Start bringing that tradition into the game of hockey.”
Roberto Luongo posted his second straight shutout, stopping 22 shots. But few were difficult.
“I don’t think he had a tough night,” Mitchell said, grinning.
Luongo, who blanked Los Angeles on Thursday, extended the franchise record with his ninth shutout this season. He has 47 in the NHL, tying him with San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov for fourth among active players. New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur is first with 101.
“The great thing is this team is playing really well defensively,” Luongo said. “It cuts down on the number of big saves I have to make.”
Peter Budaj was the hard-luck loser, another unlucky bounce leading to his demise. Budaj allowed a trick shot by Dallas’ Mike Ribeiro to trickle in during a shootout loss on Thursday.
“You don’t want to point fingers at being unlucky,” Budaj said. “Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t.”
Colorado, which will wrap up the season Sunday at home against St. Louis, will finish last in the West for the first time since the team relocated to Denver from Quebec in 1995. The Avalanche have the third fewest points (68) in the NHL, behind the New York Islanders (61) and Tampa Bay (66).
“We gave everything we had and lost,” forward Ian Laperriere said. “Got beaten by an unlucky goal.”
Laperriere skated in his 1,000th NHL game on Saturday, an accomplishment he’ll always cherish. The gritty forward made his debut on March 3, 1994, while with the St. Louis Blues. He has played for four teams, and spent the last four seasons with the Avalanche.
“It is meaningful,” he said. “If I look back at my career, it’s my effort that I’m proudest of … I worked hard so I could play into my 30s, and I’m still playing hard at 35.”
The Canucks were without Taylor Pyatt as he missed a fifth straight game after his fiancee, Carly Bragnalo, was killed in a car crash while vacationing with family in Jamaica.
“The situation has been on our minds,” Luongo said. “It has been tough.”
Notes: Colorado had eight regulars missing from the lineup, including captain Joe Sakic. He announced Thursday that the strength in his left leg hasn’t fully returned following January surgery to repair a herniated disk. It is unknown if he will return for a 21st season. … The Canucks won their final game of the regular season on the road for the first time in seven years. … The Canucks reached the century mark in points for the fifth time.