Canucks lose Northwest, now face Blues
It was a season finale to forget for the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.
Holding their fate in their own hands, the Canucks fell 2-0 to the Los Angeles Kings at GM Place, thus losing the Northwest Division title and securing a first-round playoff date with the St. Louis Blues.
Mikko Eloranta capitalized on a scramble late in the third period to notch the game-winner for the Kings. Eric Belanger added an empty netter to erase the Canucks' hopes of securing their first division titile since 1993.
The loss, combined with Colorado's 5-2 win over the Blues Sunday, gave the Avs their ninth-straight division crown and the third seed in the Western Conference. They will now face the Minnesota Wild in the opening round.
The loss bumped the Canucks into fourth in the West. They have home-ice advantage in a series with the talented Blues.
Captain Markus Naslund addressed the GM Place crowd after Sunday's defeat during a season-ending ceremony.
"We choked," said Naslund. "But we're going to change that. We're going to play a lot better in the playoffs. I can promise you that."
Jamie Storr made 27 saves for the shutout on Sunday, while Dan Cloutier turned aside 24 in a losing effort.
Cloutier's play was one of the positive notes for the Canucks. The Vancouver netminder, who has battled a right knee injury for the last quarter of the season, looked playoff-ready on Sunday.
The Canucks also lost out on a pair of individual awards -- the Art Ross and Rocket Richard Trophies.
Naslund went into the game as the NHL points leader. But he saw the Art Ross slip away when he was held scoreless and boyhood friend Peter Forsberg of the Avs added recorded three points to take the title.
Forsberg finished 2002-03 with 106 points, two more than Naslund. Vancouver's Todd Bertuzzi ended the campaign with 97 and would have earned a $2 million bonus had he hit the 100-point plateau.
Naslund also lost out on the NHL goals lead when Milan Hejduk picked up his 50th of the season Sunday. Hejduk, the only player to collect 50 goals this season, finished with two more tallies than the Canucks' captain.
Vancouver finishes the year with a 45-23-13-1 mark and 104 points. Sunday's win was a moral victory for the Kings who are out of the playoff picture with a 33-37-6-6 record.
The Kings, who finished out of the playoffs for the first time since 1999, played like a team on a mission Sunday. They forced Cloutier to make many big saves throughout the contest.
Notes: The Canucks announced their season-end awards prior to Sunday's game. Naslund was named MVP for the third straight year. Bertuzzi also took home his third straight most exciting player honours. Ed Jovanovski took his third best defenceman title in a row, while Matt Cooke was chosen the team's unsung hero.
with files from Canadian Press