Canucks try to ward off Blues atop West

The Vancouver Canucks are accustomed to being atop the NHL, but being chased by the St. Louis Blues is certainly a new twist.
Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler and St. Louis defender Barret Jackman battle in front of Blues goalie Brian Elliott the last time the teams played at Rogers Arena. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The Vancouver Canucks are accustomed to being atop the NHL, but being chased by the St. Louis Blues is certainly a new twist.

The Canucks attempt to create some breathing room in the race for the Presidents' Trophy on Thursday night when they host the surging Blues.

Vancouver (40-16-8) appears headed for its fourth consecutive Northwest Division title, and is trying to widen its slim lead for its second consecutive Presidents' Trophy.

The Canucks, though, have plenty of competition to fend off, leading St. Louis (40-17-7) and Detroit by one point and the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers by two.

Vancouver would like to pad its lead in the race for home-ice throughout the postseason, but the team came away frustrated with Tuesday's 2-1 shootout loss at Phoenix, capping a 3-1-2 road trip with back-to-back defeats.

"It was a frustrating way to end the trip," said Cory Schneider, who had 34 saves before stopping one of three chances in the tiebreaker. "We had a lead going into the third period and we don't close the door. We're a team that [usually] does that well."

A return home could be just what the Canucks need to regain their momentum. They're 6-0-1 in their last seven at Rogers Arena, where they'll play their next seven games.

Vancouver plays 13 of its final 18 regular-season contests at home, but lost 3-0 there to the Blues on Oct. 26 before splitting the next two meetings in St. Louis.

Likely starter Roberto Luongo is 14-4-4 with a 2.05 goals-against average and two shutouts at home. He made 31 saves before Daniel Sedin scored 46 seconds into overtime to clinch a 3-2 win at St. Louis on Jan. 12.

The St. Louis surge continued with Wednesday's 5-2 victory at Edmonton, improving to 4-0-0 on this six-game trip.

"We have four wins on the road on this trip already which is pretty good," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're in the bonus round. We play our best hockey when we are a bit scared and I think we will be a little bit for that game."

Jaroslav Halak was the winning goalie. Halak and Brian Elliott each have six shutouts this season for the Blues.

Centre McDonald has five goals in the past eight games, and eight points in 10 since missing 51 with a concussion. He has five goals and seven assists in his last nine meetings with the Canucks.

Vancouver will continue its lengthy homestand Saturday in a Hockey Night in Canada contest against Buffalo (CBC,, 7 p.m. ET).

The Canucks and Sabres will meet just five days after the surprising trade that sent impressive rookie Cody Hodgson from the B.C. team in exchange for tough Zack Kassian.