The franchise milestones continue for the Vancouver Canucks, even when they're not at their best.
Chris Higgins scored twice and added an assist and Corey Schneider was excellent again in net with 39 saves as the Canucks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1 Sunday at Nationwide Arena to reach 50 wins in a season for the first time. It was also their eighth straight road victory, which ties a team mark set during the 2003-04 season.
Christian Ehrhoff and Henrik Sedin had the other goals for Vancouver, which opened up a 12-point lead on Detroit and San Jose for the top seed in the Western Conference. Its 109 points this season are also a franchise record. Still, nobody seemed overwhelmed with the Canucks' effort against a team that has fallen out of the playoff picture.
"There's going to be games like this during the season when you're not feeling your best," Sedin said. "I think tonight we had 20 guys that weren't at their best."
Schneider, making his 22nd appearance of the season, improved to 15-3-2 in spelling Roberto Luongo. He was bidding for his second career shutout until R.J. Umberger scored the only goal for the Blue Jackets with 8:53 remaining.
Vancouver was outshot 40-24 in the game, including 25-12 through the first two periods, but had the only goal through the first 40 minutes. The Canucks capitalized on a turnover by Columbus forward Antoine Vermette and Ehrhoff snapped a shot from the right circle past Mathieu Garon for his 12th goal of the season.
"Teams are obviously getting themselves prepared for us," coach Alain Vigneault said. "I thought Columbus, tonight, played real strong. At the end of the night, our goaltender was better than their goaltender and we won the game."
A tripping penalty to Sami Lepisto 3:22 into the third opened the door for Sedin's power-play goal 14 seconds later. Ryan Kesler found Sedin alone in front, and he put a backhander past Garon to double the Canucks' lead.
Kesler and Alexandre Burrows took minor penalties 55 seconds apart to set Columbus up on a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage, but the Blue Jackets couldn't take advantage. Kesler then set up Higgins at 9:03 for a 3-0 lead, sending a cross-ice pass to the lower left circle where Higgins snapped the puck into the net.
"(We were) just trying to hunker down a little bit," said Higgins, who scored his first goals since Vancouver acquired him at the trade deadline. "They were taking the game to us and we just wanted to flip the script a little bit and play a much tighter third period."
Umberger ended a long scoreless drought on home ice for the Jackets by scoring his 24th of the season on a play where his shot hit the left post, bounced off Schneider's back and trickled over the goal line.
Schneider wouldn't let Columbus get any closer, though, and Vancouver's top-ranked power play connected again with 2:24 remaining when Higgins scored into an open left side of the net.
"We just couldn't score, couldn't bury it," Umberger said. "We peppered them with shots from everywhere. We had a lot of rebounds. It's frustrating when you get those chances and don't score."
1 - 0 VAN
2 - 0 VAN
3 - 0 VAN
3 - 1 VAN
4 - 1 VAN
Interference - Goalkeeper
Interference - Goalkeeper