Colorado lost the night before against the Edmonton Oilers to fall 10 points behind the Winnipeg Jets in the race for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. Instead of folding, the Avalanche played what coach Patrick Roy called their best opening 40 minutes of the season and dealt the Canucks' playoff hopes a blow with a 4-1 win at Rogers Arena.
"Absolutely it could have been [easy to quit]," said captain Gabriel Landeskog, who set up Jarome Iginla's opening goal and scored one of his own on a power play. "But this team has shown enough character and perseverance that we are not going to quit."
Despite playing the night before, Colorado outshot the Canucks 18-5 in the first period and jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second. Alex Tanguay had a goal and an assist, Ryan O'Reilly had two assists to extend his point streak to six games, and John Mitchell scored an empty-net goal.
Goalie Reto Berra made 33 saves for his first NHL win since Nov. 6 for the Avalanche (34-28-12), who remain 10 points behind the Jets, 5-2 winners against the Montreal Canadiens earlier Thursday, for the second Western Conference wild card. Colorado has eight games remaining.
"We're going to leave it all out there the last eight games," Landeskog said. "It doesn't matter where we are in the standings. We play for pride and we play for each other and we play for the crest on our jersey and we feel we owe it to each other in here."
The Canucks were left looking for answers. On a night when they wore throwback uniforms to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Vancouver Millionaires winning the 1915 Stanley Cup, their own playoff chances took a hit.
"It's unacceptable," defenseman Luca Sbisa said. "We knew how important this game was. Every game going down the stretch is going to be like a playoff game. Not showing up tonight is not acceptable. It's pretty much like our 'B' team showed up. It's not the same team as we've had the last three or four games."
Defenseman Yannick Weber scored a power-play goal 15 seconds into the third period for the Canucks (43-27-4), but it wasn't enough to prevent their first loss in four games.
Vancouver is two points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings, who defeated the New York Islanders 3-2 earlier Thursday, for second place in the Pacific Division, and three points ahead of the fourth-place Calgary Flames, who are three points behind Winnipeg. The Canucks, Kings and Flames each have eight games remaining.
"Bottom line, we didn't play well enough," said goalie Eddie Lack, who made 18 of his 34 saves in the first period. "I can't really point to why. The locker room felt good before. I felt like we were ready and then we weren't."
Despite playing the night before and falling further out of a playoff spot with a 4-3 loss at the Oilers, it was Colorado that controlled play in the first period. The Avalanche outshot Vancouver 12-1 in the first half of the opening period, but failed to convert a 5-on-3 power play for 80 seconds eight minutes into the period.
"Their battle level was way higher," Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said. "They just outskated us. It doesn't matter what you're doing, if teams are outskating you, they're getting first to the puck and you're always defending."
Berra hadn't started an NHL game since Nov. 25, but he built a little momentum by relieving Semyon Varlamov in the first period against Edmonton and making 26 saves. He made his best stop Thursday early on a nice Daniel Sedin move alone atop the crease on a power play, and helped the Avalanche hold their lead in the third period by making 17 saves in the third period.
"I just wanted to prove to myself and the whole team and everybody that I can just play in this League," Berra said. "It was not easy to stay positive but it's a process."
Colorado opened the scoring 3:23 into the second period after a long, dominant shift in the Canucks' end. Landeskog ended it by circling behind the net, coming out the other side and skating up and into the slot unchecked for a wrist shot that deflected into the net off Iginla.
It was Iginla's team-leading 26th goal of the season and his 1,219th career point, moving him into a tie with Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau for 40th place on the NHL's all-time scoring list.
"We put them on their heels," Iginla said. "We were desperate. We know the standings and we have to win out to give ourselves a chance, but guys came in just trying to win this game. Don't think about the big picture or what are the odds; just enjoy this game."
Lack stopped Landeskog on a breakaway midway through the period, but Colorado worked the puck to the point for a shot that bounced off the end boards to Lack's left and came to Tanguay at the right side of the net for a quick shot over the goalie's blocker.
"That's the type of group that I have. They are very resilient," Roy said. "It tells a lot about the character of our guys."
Colorado's 29th-ranked power play converted its fourth chance against Vancouver's second-ranked penalty kill with three minutes left in the period to make it 3-0. Tanguay's cross-crease pass stranded Lack and left Landeskog with an open net for his 22nd goal. O'Reilly got his second assist on the goal, giving him four goals and seven assists during his six-game point streak.
"The line of O'Reilly, they are playing solid hockey," Roy said. "They are dominant shift after shift after shift and that's fun to watch."
Weber gave the Canucks life on the first shift of the third period by blowing a slap shot off the rush past Berra from the top of the left circle. It was the third straight game Weber has scored and the fourth straight game Vancouver's power play scored after going five games without a goal, but the Canucks failed to take advantage of consecutive advantages midway through the period.
"Not the start you want, first shot and boom, especially from my Swiss friend Yannick Weber," Berra said. "They kept coming but we did a good job protecting our house, protecting me, protecting the front of the net and I am real thankful to the whole team."