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After missing the playoffs last year for the first time in five seasons, the Vancouver Canucks shook things up with a big offseason deal.
That trade has worked out well so for the Canucks, who hope to remain in first place in the Northwest Division when they begin the second half of the season by hosting the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night.
In a five-player deal on the eve of the NHL draft in June, Vancouver dealt forward Todd Bertuzzi and goalie Alex Auld to Florida for goalie Roberto Luongo. While Bertuzzi had been one of the Canucks' top scorers, Luongo has lived up to his reputation as a former Vezina Trophy finalist, starting the All-Star game for the Western Conference while posting 27 wins and a 2.38 goals-against average in the first half.
After a mediocre start to the season, the Canucks (27-19-2) heated up in the past month, winning 10 of their last 12 games to enter the break tied with Calgary atop the Northwest with 56 points. Only six points separate the five teams in the division.
Vancouver closed out the first half with a four-game road trip, winning the first three before losing 4-3 in a shootout to Eastern Conference-leading Buffalo. The Canucks nearly had the victory in hand, but gave up the tying goal with 39.1 seconds remaining.
"We're a little disappointed giving up a lead late like that," Canucks center Brendan Morrison told the team's official Web site. "Though to throw a guy out of the face-off like that, then have the puck bounce three times and up in the net, what are you going to do?"
The Canucks, who have won 12 of their past 15 at GM Place, are beginning a four-game homestand.
It's been a much more difficult season for the Kings, who ended the first half with a seven-game losing streak and have just 38 points - the fewest in the West and the second-lowest in the NHL. Los Angeles trails Anaheim by 30 points in the Pacific Division.
The Kings (16-28-6) have dealt with numerous injuries, especially to goaltenders, and have turned to 17-year veteran Sean Burke for insurance until Mathieu Garon and Dan Cloutier return to action.
The Kings have used a franchise-record five goalies this season. Burke stopped 23 of 24 shots in his debut against Phoenix last Saturday, then departed with 16:40 remaining because of dehydration. The Coyotes scored two goals after that and won 3-2.
"I kept it simple and I felt that I was going to have good energy," said Burke, who turns 40 on Monday. "I was a little concerned about my game conditioning. I haven't played in a game for close to two months. That, combined with a tough week of travel, I just felt dehydrated to a point where I wasn't able to finish."
Friday's contest is the first of a three-game Canadian road trip for Los Angeles, which has lost five straight away from home and is 5-16-0 on the road. The Kings, who have played an NHL-high 29 home games, play eight of their next nine away from home.
Los Angeles took three of four from the Canucks in 2005-06. These teams play four times in the second half.