Although the Vancouver Canucks had alternated wins and losses for the past month, this is not a .500 hockey team.
The overall NHL leaders proved it with help from both of their talented goalies during a remarkable two-day surge through Southern California.
Cory Schneider made 26 saves for his first career shutout, Manny Malhotra scored two goals and the Canucks won consecutive games for the first time in four weeks, beating the Anaheim Ducks 3-0 on Sunday night.
NHL scoring leader Daniel Sedin scored a power-play goal in the third period for the Canucks, who kicked off a five-game trip by allowing just one goal during back-to-back wins over Los Angeles and Anaheim, two potential first-round playoff opponents.
"We're getting back to the things that made us successful over the course of the year," said Malhotra, who contributed his first two-goal game in four months. "[We're] getting on teams quick, forcing them to make errors and forechecking really hard. I think our goals were a result of that."
- Canucks win consecutively for 1st time since Feb. 7
- Malhotra scores 100th career goal
- Canucks continue trip Tuesday in Phoenix
- Ducks stuck in 9th
Although the Canucks hadn't won two straight games since Feb. 4-7, this deep, balanced club also hasn't lost consecutive games in regulation since Nov. 20-21. A four-game winless skid in mid-January was the longest drought of a remarkable season.
One day after Roberto Luongo beat the Kings 3-1 for his 300th career victory, Schneider capitalized on an increasingly rare chance to play, earning his first shutout in 29 career appearances.
"I was most happy that I got the win," Schneider said. "Luongo and I have been joking that we've lost four or five shutouts in the last few minutes. The guys buckled down at the end. It's a good feeling to finally get this out of the way, but the team is more important. I've never really been a shutout guy. Hopefully there are many more to come."
Vancouver's extremely capable backup made just his second appearance in the past nine games, even though Schneider's stats are nearly identical to the totals of Luongo, the Canadian Olympic hero.
Malhotra scored his 100th career goal in the opening minute before adding another goal 17 seconds into the second period. Jannik Hansen assisted on both goals as Vancouver moved seven points ahead of East-leading Philadelphia in the Presidents' Trophy race.
"When you come out the way we did and then you push the pace and roll the lines the way we were, we're pretty hard to play against," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "When we did make some mistakes, Schneider was really good and made the right saves at the right time."
Vancouver also was backed by several hundred blue-jerseyed fans making an organized winter trip to sunny California, chanting "M-V-P!" for Sedin and jeering Dan Ellis, the new Anaheim goalie.
Ellis stopped 13 shots in his first regulation loss in five appearances with the Ducks, whose three-game winning streak ended.
After third-period comebacks led to overtime victories over Detroit and Dallas in their past two games, the Ducks missed a chance to leapfrog back into the top eight in the crowded West playoff picture. Still stuck in a three-way tie for ninth place, Anaheim dropped to 3-2-1 on a key seven-game homestand that ends Wednesday against the New York Rangers.
"They're a good hockey team, there's no doubt about it," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "The standings will show you that. It's hard work to get to the top of the standings, and they've been doing it all year. Their goaltenders give them a chance to win every night and they play pretty tight. So when they get those chances, they definitely put them in the net."
Malhotra put the Canucks ahead just 42 seconds in, beating Ellis with a stoppable shot on an odd-man rush. The veteran centre then created his own goal on the first shift of the second period, disrupting Ellis behind the net and forcing a turnover by rookie Ducks defenceman Cam Fowler before banging home a one-timer from Hansen.
Sedin, who scored the late tiebreaking goal against the Kings, capitalized in the third period with accidental help from Ducks defenceman Andreas Lilja, whose stick redirected Sedin's slap shot between Ellis' legs.
"They played a strong defensive game, so you've got to give them credit," Ellis said. "They're the top team in the league for a reason. They don't beat themselves. They have a strong, sound structure, and they've got some good players. They took away our time and space, and we just didn't have that extra punch to get through it."