Canucks capture Northwest title; Oilers eliminated
The Vancouver Canucks will enter the playoffs as Northwest Division champions. The Edmonton Oilers won't be going at all.
Veteran Mike Keane scored twice and Dan Cloutier made 24 saves as the Canucks crushed the post-season dreams of the Oilers with a 5-2 victory Saturday night in front a frenzied sell-out crowd at GM Place.
Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison and Mattias Ohlund also scored for the Canucks, who locked up their first division title in 11 years and in doing so secured the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
The Canucks will have to wait until after Sunday's games to know if they'll face the Dallas Stars or the Calgary Flames in the first round.
Vancouver reversed its fortune from last season when they struggled down the stretch and lost the division crown to the Colorado Avalanche, winners of the previous nine division titles.
"I think we learned from our mistakes," Naslund told Hockey Night in Canada's Steve Armitage. "It was reverse this year, we ended up catching Colorado.
"By winning six straight games, we won the division."
For a time this season, it looked like the Canucks were heading down the same path as last year. However, after winning just once in the first seven games following Todd Bertuzzi's suspension for attacking Colorado's Steve Moore, Vancouver overcame adversity and went on a season-high six-game win streak.
Brad Isbister and Igor Ulanov, on the power play, scored for the Oilers, who saw their second-half charge for a playoff berth fall short. Edmonton had earned points in 17 of 18 games heading into Saturday in a bid to claim a playoff berth.
The Oilers needed a win or tie against Vancouver, then a Nashville loss Sunday to claim the eighth and final playoff spot.
Down 4-1 and with their season on the line, the Oilers came out firing in the third period.
Just over four minutes in, Ulanov scored on the power play after working a perfect give-and-go with Adam Oates. The rugged Oilers blue-liner ripped a shot from the slot that beat Cloutier and cut the lead to 4-2.
Edmonton goaltender Jussi Markkanen, who replaced starter Ty Conklin at the start of the third period, sparked the Oilers with saves on two 2-on-1 breaks as well as a Naslund breakaway.
Oilers coach Craig MacTavish decided to take a big chance and called the referees to check Canucks forward Martin Rucinsky's stick. The risk paid off. Officials found Rucinsky's curve to be illegal and the Oilers were awarded a power play.
It was a prime opportunity for the Oilers to get back in the game, but the bounces just didn't seem to be there.
Petr Nedved thought he had brought the Oilers to within one when his slapshot went through the legs of Cloutier. However, the puck bounced through the crease and outside the left post.
Soon Edmonton's frustration started to show. Raffi Torres took a costly five-minute boarding penalty and a game misconduct after ramming Keane head first into the boards, leaving him cut and bleeding.
With 5:09 on the clock, the Oilers chance at a comeback virtually ended.
It was the eighth consecutive season the Oilers went down to the final week to decide if they made the playoffs. They were only eliminated once during those campaigns, in 2001-2002.
As the Canucks congratulated Cloutier after the game, the Oilers surrounded classy veteran Oates, who after 18 seasons played his last NHL game.
Oates finishes his career with 1,079 assists and 1,420 points.
"I wish it wasn't for a few weeks but I have absolutely no regrets," the 41-year-old Oates said. "I'm a very lucky guy. To be able to play so long has been fantastic."
Keane beat Oilers goalie Ty Conklin with a wrist shot through a screen to give the Canucks a 1-0 lead midway through the first period.
It took the Oilers less than four minutes to even things at 1-1, as Isbister tallied his 10th of the season at 15:01.
Naslund's 35th goal of the season at 17:48 of the opening period gave Vancouver a 2-1 edge.
Keane padded the lead when he beat Conklin with a blistering wrist shot on a 2-on-1 break at 13:42 of the second period.
Morrison, who has eight points in his last five games, increased the Canucks' lead to 4-1 with just 31.5 seconds left in the middle frame when he beat Conklin with a wrist shot from the right circle.