DENVER – The Vancouver Canucks clinched their fourth consecutive Northwest Division title in the comfort of their hotel rooms earlier in the day before creeping closer to the top spot in the NHL's overall standings Saturday night with a 3-2 come-from-behind, overtime victory against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center.
Chris Higgins scored his second goal of the game 1:40 into OT, pulling the Canucks within two points of St. Louis and the New York Rangers (101-99) in the race for the Presidents' Trophy.
The Canucks, who are 5-0-0 against the Avalanche this season, clinched the division title earlier in the day when Calgary lost to Dallas, but they are looking to overtake the Blues and Rangers for home ice throughout the playoffs.
"We have our sights set on catching them," said Higgins, who beat goalie Semyon Varlamov with a one-timer from between the top of the faceoff circles off a pass from Jannik Hansen, who outbattled Avalanche rookie defenseman Tyson Barrie for the puck in the corner.
"I just kind of hopped on the ice and saw that Jannik was hunting down the d-man," Higgins said. "He won the battle in the corner and he found me in the slot. I was able to get it off quick and surprised the goalie."
The single point gives the 10th-place Avalanche 86, the same as eighth-place Los Angeles and ninth-place San Jose in the Western Conference playoff race, but both the Kings and Sharks have played two fewer games.
"It's kind of tough because every team has got a game in hand on us," Avalanche center Ryan O'Reilly said. "We don't know how it is going to play out. For us, it has to be shift-by-shift every game. We can't control if we make the playoffs, but we can control how we play each game."
The Avs, who only has five more regular-season games, open a critical three-game road trip Monday in San Jose. Colorado also will play Vancouver and Calgary before returning home.
"It's disappointing that we didn't come away with the extra point because at this time of year we obviously need points," coach Joe Sacco said. "But I was pleased with the effort tonight. I thought we played hard. We talked about having a good start to the game and we came out firing on all cylinders. There's a lot of good things that we did in this game that we can carry into our next game. It hurts right now because we didn't grab the extra one."
Colorado might have accomplished that except for Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, who had gone 0-3-1 in his previous four decisions and finished with 38 saves.
"I felt good the last couple games," Luongo said. "I feel like I'm back where I want to be. That being said, it's a daily process. You have to make sure to put in the work and to play hard."
The Avalanche seemed to be in control while on a power play with a 2-0 lead late in the second period until David Jones was called for holding, his third penalty of the game.
The teams skated four aside for 1:08 before the Canucks went on a power play and cashed in when Mason Raymond scored at 15:55 with a shot from the right circle through a screen and past Varlamov.
The Avalanche had killed three earlier penalties to run their streak to 20 in a row over parts of six games before Raymond found the back of the net.
The Canucks tied the game 1:35 later when Samuel Pahlsson passed to Higgins skating through the left circle. Higgins shot across his body and the puck sailed past Varlamov's left arm at 17:30.
Jamie McGinn put the Avalanche in front 2-0 with a power-play goal at 11:01. Varlamov slid a long pass to Paul Stastny, who fed McGinn for a breakaway and a shot that beat Luongo to the stick side. McGinn has eight goals in 13 games since his Feb. 27 acquisition from San Jose.
The Avalanche outshot the Canucks 17-8 in the first period and grabbed a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by Gabriel Landeskog at 1:13 after Vancouver was penalized for having too many men on the ice. Milan Hejduk skated in from the left point and took a shot that Luongo stopped with his pad, but Landeskog moved to the edge of the crease to knock in the rebound for his 22nd goal.
The Canucks couldn't take advantage of a two-man advantage that lasted 1:15 or a four-minute power play that carried into the second period after Jones was assessed a double minor for cutting Kevin Bieksa with a high stick.
"We have to take the positives," Landeskog said. "We got a point. I thought we had a pretty good start. Unfortunately, we couldn't put a few more pucks in the net."
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