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Svatos and Hejduk lead Avalanche to 6-2 victory over Vancouver

VANCOUVER - Long-term injuries to three of their top scorers could have buried the Colorado Avalanche. The strong play of Marek Svatos and Milan Hejduk has ensured that hasn't happened.

Svatos and Hejduk scored two goals apiece as the Avalanche crushed the Vancouver Canucks 6-2 in what turned out to be a non-contest between two injury-riddled Northwest Division rivals.

"It's very important to get the points on the road," said Svatos. "We try to play simple hockey, and it's working."

Tyler Arnason added a goal and two assists while Brett Clark also scored for the Avalanche (30-21-5), who continue to challenge for first place in the tight Northwest Division despite the absence of injured scoring stars Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth and Paul Stastny.

Colorado took advantage of a Vancouver club that had a depleted blue-line. The Avalanche won battles in front of the net to score three unanswered first-period goals from Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo's doorstep.

Aside from an early surge in the third period, when the game was out of reach anyway, the Canucks never seriously challenged again as the Avs won for the fourth time in their past six games.

The Canucks actually outshot the Colorado 25-24, but that stat was misleading. Vancouver had an 11-2 edge in shots in the third period after Colorado led 3-0 and 5-1 by periods.

Henrik Sedin and Sami Salo, both on the power play, scored for the Canucks (27-22-7), who lost for the ninth time in their last 11 games.

Svatos scored the winning goal at only 17:05 of the first-period as he whacked at the puck three times, and put home the third attempt while Luongo was sprawled on his stomach, trying to stretch his pads to cover both posts.

"We knew we had to have a good start," said Hejduk. "We played a great first period. We forechecked them hard and spent some good time in their zone. We had a lot of good chances and stuff around the net. There was a lot of loose pucks."

The Czech winger now has 30 career goals in 51 career games against the Canucks. He has scored more career goals against Vancouver than any other club.

"I don't have an explanation for it," said Hejduk. "Our whole team plays well against them, so that probably makes it easier."

He and Svatos continued to make it easy to play without Sakic, Smyth and Stastny, who is close to returning but received an extra day of rest from coach Joel Quenneville.

"We've been playing without them for a while now," said Hejduk. "It's not like we've missed them for just a few games. They're long-term injuries and we had to battle through (them) and still win hockey games.

"When these guys are back, it will make our team even stronger." Luongo, who was pulled in favour of Curtis Sanford at the start of the third after allowing five goals on 22 shots, clearly missed injured defensive stalwarts Willie Mitchell (back), Aaron Miller (foot), Lukas Krajicek (shoulder) and Kevin Bieksa (lacerated calf).

But Luongo wasn't willing to use their absence as an excuse.

"We have to stop talking about injuries," said Luongo. "It's not a crutch. Good teams find ways to win. Colorado has three of their top forwards out and (the Avs) scored six goals."

Still, he was clearly frustrated with the play of a defence corps that included minor-league callups Luc Bourdon and Nathan McIver, who struggled and also spent 10 minutes in the penalty box as a result of two fights.

"I'm a goalie not a defenceman," said Luongo. "They know what they have to do. I tried to make the first save, and the guys got to take care of the sticks so I can try and find the puck."

Henrik Sedin reduced Vancouver's deficit to 3-1 at 7:37 of the second. But Clark and Svatos, with his second goal, scored 20 seconds apart late in the middle frame to put the game out of reach for the Canucks.

Salo's power play goal at 1:22 gave the Canucks a bit of hope for a comeback, as they continued to press, not allowing Colorado a shot until the 9:21 mark.

Unfortunately, Hejduk put that shot behind Sanford, increasing the Avalanche advantage to 6-2.

"It was a poor game," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. "The whole team didn't play well." The Canucks don't have much time to lick their wounds. They play the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night.

NOTES: Mitchell and Miller are both close to being ready to return . . . Canuck winger Brad Isbister sat out his fifth straight game as a healthy scratch. He has played in only five of the past 17 games. Fellow winger Jeff Cowan, who has only one point an assist in 29 games this season, was also scratched. . . Avalanche defenceman Karlis Skrastins and right winger Scott Parker were healthy scratches.


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