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Hejduk's Hat Trick Keeps Avs' Playoff Hopes Alive

by Staff Writer / Colorado Avalanche

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- Milan Hejduk scored three goals, including two 4 minutes apart in the third period -- to help the Colorado Avalanche preserve their playoff hopes with a 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.

Paul Stastny assisted on all three goals as the Avalanche improved to 13-1-2 in the last 16 games to pull within three points of Calgary for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with two games to play.

The Flames, who played at San Jose on Thursday night, had a chance to eliminate the Avalanche by getting two points in their final three games -- including a head-to-head match in Colorado in Sunday's season finale.

Hejduk opened the scoring 25 seconds into the game, walking in unchecked on the right side and snapping a low shot past Roberto Loungo's blocker. The Canucks' goalie made his best stops on Hejduk after that, including a stop with his glove on a second period power play.

However, Hejduk beat him low again after being left alone in the slot to break a 1-1 tie 6:57 into the third period.

Hejduk completed his fourth career hat trick 4 minutes later, outwaiting a sprawled Luongo at the top of the crease before tucking in a backhand.

Peter Budaj, who was pulled from his last start in Vancouver before the end of the first period, made 17 saves to improve to 13-0-2 during Colorado's six-week run.

Sami Salo scored for the Canucks, who failed to clinch the Northwest Division -- and a top-3 playoff seed -- in their final home game. Vancouver is now just one point ahead of Minnesota, but can still secure the division title by picking up two points during their final two road games this weekend.

Luongo, who played all 41 home games this season, made 27 saves.

A 168th-straight sellout crowd of 18,630 was on hand fan appreciation night, but they didn't have much to cheer after Hejduk's early goal.

The Canucks appeared to tie the game at 7:33 after a turnover in the Avalanche end led to an odd-man rush and Brendan Morrison's hard pass was redirected into the net by Markus Naslund's skate. Despite the apparent lack of a kicking motion, the goal was waved off after a video review, but the Canucks got it back 26 seconds later, with Morrison providing the screen for Sami Salo's point shot past Budaj.

It stayed tied until the third, thanks mostly to Loungo, who robbed Hejduk twice and made point-blank glove saves off Wojtek Wolski and Ben Guite in the second period. He got a pad on Tyler Arnason's backhand and stuffed Joe Sakic on a power play rebound early in third period, sparking chants of MVP.

Budaj was far less busy but just as clutch at the other end, throwing out his right pad to stop Henrik Sedin on a breakaway with the game still tied five minutes into the third. He also made a couple of point-blank saves during a Canucks power play shortly after Hejduk's third goal.

Game notes
The Avalanche host Nashville Saturday before wrapping up the season against Calgary. ... Vancouver finishes with back-to-back road games in San Jose on Saturday and Phoenix on Sunday. ... Colorado's only regulation loss in the last 16 games was to the Canucks nine days earlier. It was also Jose Theodore's only start ahead of Budaj in that time. ... The Canucks are to 31-7-6 since Christmas and one point from matching the single season franchise record (104) set in 2002-03.

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