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Avalanche 3, Canucks 1 @NHL

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -Milan Hejduk single-handedly preserved the Colorado Avalanche's slim playoff hopes and increased the pressure on the Calgary Flames.

Hejduk scored three goals, including two just under 4 minutes apart in the third period, to lead the Avalanche to a 3-1 victory over the Canucks on Thursday night.

Paul Stastny assisted on all three goals as Colorado 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.

"We're still alive," Hejduk said. "This was a big game for us, another big two points and we are putting pressure on Calgary and we'll see how they respond."

The Flames lost 4-3 at San Jose, but can still eliminate the Avalanche by beating Edmonton on Saturday. If Calgary loses and the Avalanche beat Nashville on Saturday, the last playoff spot will come down to a head-to-head match in Colorado in Sunday's season finale.

"We know we have to do our part," Hejduk said. "We have to win all the games for the rest of the regular season and we need some help from other teams. But it would be unbelievable (if we get in). We are definitely one of the hottest teams in the league. If we can make it, anything can happen."

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.

"We believe we can beat any kind of team," Budaj said. "Hopefully we carry this momentum into end of season. We just want to focus on our side, on our end. We can't control what's going to happen with Calgary, hopefully we get some help."

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

"It was a disappointing effort to finish the regular season at home with a pretty bad note," said Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, who made 27 saves and played all 41 home games this season. "We're not very happy with ourselves the way we played."

Vancouver was uncharacteristically sloppy in its own end, allowing "15 grade-A scoring chances," according to head coach Alain Vigneault.

Many went to Hejduk, who finished with 10 of Colorado's 30 shots.

He opened the scoring 25 seconds into the game, walking in unchecked on the right side and snapping a low shot past Roberto Luongo'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.

"I had some other chances and he made some big saves," Hejduk said. "Two goals on blocker side, I don't know if it was luck, but it went in."

A 168th-straight sellout crowd of 18,630 was on hand for 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. However, the Canucks got it back 26 seconds later, with Morrison providing the screen for Salo's point shot past Budaj.

It stayed tied until the third, thanks mostly to Luongo, who robbed Hejduk twice and made point-blank glove saves off Wojtek Wolski and Ben Guite in the second period. Luongo 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!"

"They outplayed us the whole night," Morrison said. "Maybe they had a little more on the line than us, a little more urgency in their game, but this is frustrating. We didn't win many 1-on-1 battles."

Budaj threw out his right pad to stop Henrik Sedin on a breakaway with the game still tied 5 minutes into the third. He also made a couple of point-blank saves during a Canucks power play shortly after Hejduk's third goal.

"Peter made a couple of great save in the third on breakaways that were huge," Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said.

Notes: 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 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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