Or so it seemed.
The Canucks, down 2-1 midway through the third period, got goals from Alex Burrows and Henrik Sedin in a span of two minutes and 22 seconds to take a 3-2 lead midway through the final frame, en route to a 4-2 victory Wednesday night at Rogers Arena.
Were the Canucks merely toying with the Avalanche, a team sporting a 1-9-1 record in its last 11 road games that is five points out of the NHL cellar, or was this an off night for the league’s top ranked team?
It doesn’t really matter. Vancouver won for the seventh straight time to clinch its third consecutive Northwest Division title and the eighth in franchise history while securing a playoff spot for the 24th time ever.
“I guess they don’t do the cover it in plastic and bring champagne like baseball,” joked netminder Cory Schneider, who has never played in the NHL playoffs, on clinching the division. “It’s nice to have that locked up and know you’re going to be in the playoffs.”
The road there wasn’t pretty on this night, far from it, as the Avalanche held a 2-0 lead at the 12:47 mark off a pair of goals in one minute and 27 seconds, but eerily similar to the game against the Calgary Flames last Saturday night and against the Phoenix Coyotes eight days ago, the Canucks rallied from the early two-goal hole for a thrilling comeback win.
Maxim Lapierre got the Canucks on the board 6:37 into the second period and it remained a 2-1 game until Burrows chipped in a rebound from in close and Henrik, playing in his 800th career game, extended his point-streak to a season-high seven games by converting a feed from Daniel Sedin in the slot.
Schneider, starting his 19th game between the pipes for the Canucks, stopped 27 of 29 shots to win his fifth consecutive game and improve to 14-3-2 this season, the 29th best record in the NHL, despite starting six less games than anyone in the top 30.
Sedins, Schneider and secondary scoring – a lethal combination. Leads beware.
“We didn’t play a good first period tonight, but we stuck with our game plan and if we do that and we have a lot of guys chipping in, we’re going to win a lot of games,” said Henrik Sedin, who remains tied with Steven Stamkos for second in NHL scoring, six points behind brother Daniel.
The win boosts Vancouver to 103 points, two back of the franchise’s all-time high of 105 from the 2006-07 season – with 10 games remaining. Whether the Canucks beat that mark or demolish it, they’re headed to the playoffs.
“It’s nice to clinch,” said 21-goal scorer Alex Burrows, “that was one of our goals coming into the season, to get into the playoffs and try to win the Northwest and get home ice advantage and it’s nice to accomplish that, but there’s still a lot of work ahead.”
Vancouver’s fourth line punished Colorado and got the Canucks back on track Wednesday night.
The trio of Maxim Lapierre, Chris Higgins and Jeff Tambellini (juggled throughout the game because of an injury suffered by Manny Malhotra in the first period) combined for six hits and five shots, alongside a big opening goal for Vancouver, as newcomers Lapierre and Higgins put their best game on display.
Chip pucks deep, work in the opposing team’s zone, be physical, create traffic in front, forecheck and cause a ruckus when needed, they did it all.
"We’re trying to keep things simple,” explained Lapierre, “work hard in their zone and be sound defensively. It’s going to be the same routine every game, we want to keep it simple out there.”
Lapierre’s goal, assisted by Higgins, gave both players their first point as a member of the the Canucks; the goal was the sixth of the year for Lapierre and the first since December 16, 2010.
The Canucks have won six or more games at four different points this season; this was the 136th all-time meeting between the Canucks and Avalanche, despite the win Vancouver trails the all-time series 55-57-24.