Canucks prove major obstacle for Avalanche

The Vancouver Canucks will try Wednesday night to complete a series sweep of the visiting Colorado Avalanche, losers of three straight games and valuable ground in the playoff race.
Byron Bitz (34) of the Canucks pounds Cody McLeod in a 3-2 shootout win over the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on Feb. 4. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The Vancouver Canucks have handed the Colorado Avalanche five losses this season. A sixth would seemingly dash any chance the Avs have of reaching the playoffs.

Slumping Colorado looks to avoid being swept in the season series by the Canucks for the first time in more than 20 years when it visits the Northwest Division champions Wednesday night.

Colorado went 7-1-1 from March 4-20 to get back in the playoff picture, but the three consecutive losses since have badly damaged its post-season hopes. One of the defeats was 3-2 in overtime to the Canucks on Saturday, a result that gave Vancouver a fourth straight Northwest Division title.

Chris Higgins scored his second goal of the game in OT as Vancouver (46-21-9) rallied from a 2-0 second-period deficit. It was the Canucks' sixth straight victory over the Avs and moved them to 14-0-2 in the last 16 matchups.

Vancouver is looking to sweep the season series for the first time since winning all three games from the Quebec Nordiques in 1987-88.

The Canucks have outscored the Avs 18-5 in 2011-12, with Jannik Hansen and Daniel Sedin leading the way with three goals apiece.

Sedin, the team leader with 30 goals, is recovering from a concussion sustained last Wednesday and is uncertain to return before the playoffs.

Vancouver has won three straight, with Monday's 1-0 victory over Los Angeles guaranteeing it will finish no worse than second in the West.

Manny Malhotra scored his first goal since Feb. 18 and Roberto Luongo made 38 saves for his fourth shutout of the season. Luongo appears refreshed, posting a 1.30 goals-against average and stopping 111 of 115 shots in his last three starts after receiving a week off.

"Sometimes, you just need to reset everything," said Luongo, who was 0-3-0 with a 5.28 GAA and .845 save percentage in his previous four starts.

"Obviously, mentally, I wasn't where I wanted to be and I was fighting it a little bit. But sometimes, you have to put things in perspective and start from scratch and that's what I did and I'm feeling good right now."

Luongo stopped 38 shots against Colorado over the weekend and has posted a 1.43 GAA in four games against them this season. He has gone 10-0-2 with a 2.24 GAA in his last 12 starts versus the Avs, who have scored two or fewer goals in each of their last four games overall.

Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog and Jami McGinn beat Luongo for power-play goals Saturday. Forward Chuck Kobasew's hit on Aaron Rome left the Canucks defenceman with an injured knee and Kobasew was fined $2,500 US by the NHL on Sunday for causing the injury that sidelined Rome for Monday's game.

The Avalanche (40-32-6) are one point behind eighth-place Phoenix in the Western Conference, but the Coyotes have a game in hand. Colorado also must move past ninth-place Los Angeles, which is tied with the Avs with 86 points but has two games in hand.

With four games remaining, Colorado has little margin for error, especially after a 5-1 defeat to San Jose on Monday pushed the club's losing streak to three.

"Four games left, you have to win them all and hope other things work out our way," Avalanche forward Paul Stastny said. "It's a guaranteed must-win."

Avs netminder Semyon Varlamov is 0-4-1 with a 3.29 GAA lifetime versus the Canucks. Varlamov, who has started five straight games, has a 3.34 GAA during his losing streak after posting a 1.91 GAA in winning his previous five.