Canucks capture Northwest crown
The Vancouver Canucks are the NHL Northwest Division champions for the third time in four years.
Two days after clinching a berth in the post-season, the Canucks secured the division crown with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Minnesota Wild Sunday night at GM Place.
While they made the victory more exciting than it needed to be, defenceman Sami Salo finally ended the contest by blasting a power-play goal past Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom at 2:15 of the extra frame.
Ryan Kesler, Kyle Wellwood and Alexander Edler supplied the other goals for Vancouver. Goaltender Roberto Luongo rebounded from a tough stretch, stopping 24 shots en route to his 39th victory of the season.
"We got the job done at the end of the day," said Luongo. "We wanted the win and we got it, so we're happy we got that out of the way."
Andrew Brunette, Cody Almond and Antti Miettinen almost brought the Wild back to an improbable win with one goal apiece. Backstrom, tested often and early, responded with a 36-save effort.
The previous 14 games were not kind to Luongo, who posted a mediocre 7-6-1 record to go with an inflated 3.58 goals-against average.
But the friendly confines of his familiar arena improved Luongo's home record to 26-8-2. The victory also helped Luongo celebrate his 31st birthday.
The Canucks (48-27-4) remain in third place in the Western Conference with 100 points and lock up the Northwest despite second-place Colorado (42-29-7, 91 points) defeating San Jose 5-4 in overtime Sunday night.
"We had challenges of injuries all year long and the guys were able to stay together and play some pretty good hockey," said head coach Alain Vigneault. "You don't finish first in your division by being real inconsistent and not playing good hockey."
Eliminated from the post-season since Friday, the Wild (37-36-6), who were dormant for most of the game, came on like gangbusters.
After Edler appeared to seal the victory with an empty-net goal — giving Vancouver a 3-1 lead at 19:05 — the Wild exploded with two goals in 23 seconds.
Almond struck the first blow, redirecting a Casey Wellman pass behind Luongo. Before the Canucks could catch their breath, Miettinen sent the game into overtime as he beat Luongo at the side of the net with only 19 seconds left in regulation time.
The one positive for Vancouver winning in overtime was that it allowed Henrik Sedin to earn an assist on Salo's goal. With his 106th point, Sedin moved four ahead of Washington sniper Alex Ovechkin atop the scoring race.
Kesler and Wellwood staked Vancouver to a 2-0 lead with goals in each of the first two periods, respectively. Brunnette replied on the power play at the 10-minute mark of the third for Minnesota before the fireworks began minutes later.
"The game should have been put away earlier than what we did," Vigneault said. "We had some grade-A chances where we missed some open nets, that's going to happen.
"It's unfortunate what happened at the end there. A few mistakes ended up in the back of our net, but at the end of the day you've got to find ways to win."
Vancouver went 2-for-7 on the power play while Minnesota scored once on eight chances.
With files from The Canadian Press