DENVER – Despite a rash of injuries to their stable of forwards, the Vancouver Canucks have managed to stay in the hunt for a fifth consecutive Northwest Division title.
The Canucks moved back into the top spot Sunday with a 3-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center, giving them 40 points -- two more than the second-place Minnesota Wild, who have played two fewer games.
"We take pride in being in first, but at the same time we've got to kind of put our heads down and plow ahead and pile up the points, get as many as we can get and not look around to see who's doing what or where we are in the standings," said Canucks goalie Cory Schneider. "If we do our jobs and win our games, it forces other teams to do the same. It's nice, but things can change in a day or two."
Dale Weise became the latest Canucks forward sidelined by injury when he hurt his shoulder Saturday in a 1-0 win in Los Angeles, but Vancouver still had enough offense to knock off the Avalanche for the ninth time in a row since Jan. 18, 2011.
"There's got to be some luck in there. I'm sure they didn't deserve a few of those (losses)," said Schneider, who stopped 26 shots and has held opponents to five goals during a four-game winning streak. "We're a little shorthanded right now, but we've been finding alternative ways to win games."
Jason Garrison, Mason Raymond and Alex Burrows scored goals to support Schneider, who owns a 5-0-1 record against the Avalanche in his NHL career.
"He's playing well," Raymond said of Schneider. "It's phenomenal to see him playing the way he is and seeing the puck the way he is, so it's huge for our club."
Raymond and Burrows scored in the second period when the Canucks grabbed a 3-1 lead. Raymond beat Avalanche goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere at 3:13 to break a 1-1 tie with a shot from just outside the left circle. Burrows skated down the right circle to convert Andrew Ebbett's pass at 14:29 for what proved to be the winning goal.
"I like to think it was lucky a little bit," said Burrows, who chipped a backhanded shot behind Giguere. "It was pretty much a dump-in. (Keith Ballard) threw it behind the net and it was a nice play by Ebbett to find me. We'll take those; we need contributions from everyone. We have a lot of depth on this team and we have a lot of character."
The Avalanche went on a 5-on-3 power play for 1:11 with 3:42 remaining in the third period when Canucks forward Chris Higgins (hooking) joined defenseman Andrew Alberts (slashing) in the penalty box. Avalanche right wing PA Parenteau, who turned 30 Sunday, scored a power-play goal with 2:31 to go – officially one second after Alberts' original penalty expired – to pull the Avalanche within 3-2.
The Avalanche felt there was still time remaining on Alberts' penalty when Parenteau scored, that they should have still had 5-on-4 advantage with Higgins remaining in the box.
"There was a full second left on the clock," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "That cannot happen in our own building. Points are at a premium right now. We have guys out there fighting and trying to gain points. We get another 49 seconds on that power play and you never know what can happen. Obviously that's a big mistake."
Garrison opened the scoring for the Canucks with a power-play goal at 5:18 of the first period, but Jamie McGinn answered for the Avalanche at 9:18 off a cross-ice pass from Parenteau on a 2-on-1 rush.
"We got in the hole again," Parenteau said. "That's the story of the last 10 games. You're not going to win many games that way. Confidence as a team, we don't have that right now. We get deflated when we get in a hole, and that's what happened again tonight. It's asking a lot of the offensive guys every night. I thought [Giguere] played a solid game overall. They scored some nice goals, but we've got to be better."
The Avalanche have lost six of their past seven games -- four of the defeats have come at home -- and they are in last place in the Western Conference.
"Some of the same things keep happening and we're going to have to find a way to get out of it," said Giguere, who stopped 27 shots. "It's the players; it's not the coaches, it's not the system. It's us who can decide whether we win or lose."
Colorado lost two players to injury Sunday – center Paul Stastny left in the first period with a foot injury after blocking a shot and defenseman Ryan Wilson departed in the second period when he aggravated an ankle injury.