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Canucks 5, Lightning 1 @NHLdotcom

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -A year ago, Roberto Luongo couldn't have imagined any easy nights against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Luongo faced an average of 36 Lightning shots back when he was with the Florida Panthers and even saw 50 once. But on Tuesday night, Luongo made 16 saves and helped the Vancouver Canucks to a 5-1 victory.

"It was amazing we were able to keep them to such a low total," he said. "We did a great job defensively on their top guys, so all in all it was a fairly easy night for me."

Luongo didn't have a lot of those during his five seasons in Florida and all signs pointed to another busy night against the Lightning, who entered fifth in the NHL with 214 goals and carried two of the league's top-3 scorers in Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.

But the Canucks held Tampa Bay to a season-low 17 shots and scored four times in the final 25 minutes to remain two points ahead of Calgary atop the Northwest Division.

"It was our best defensive effort of the season," Luongo said.

Defenseman Kevin Bieksa put Vancouver ahead with 4:21 left in the second period, pinching into the slot to convert a nice drop pass from Daniel Sedin, who extended the lead by scoring his 30th goal on a power play 21 seconds into the third.

Bryan Smolinski added a short-handed goal seven minutes into the third - just after the Canucks killed off the first half of a minute-long 5-on-3 power play - and tough guy Jeff Cowan added his second of the game in the final minute.

"Our identity is a hardworking, smart hockey team and that's what we proved again," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "Their top players played a ton and we caught them 10-to-13 times on 3-on-2s or 2-on-1s, because they were extending the length of their shift. We knew they were going to do it."

Lecavalier scored his NHL-leading 43rd goal of the season as Tampa Bay fell two points behind Southeast-leading Atlanta. The Lightning are 11-4-2 since Jan. 30, but have lost three of four, including one in overtime.

"There's no excuses here, they outplayed us," coach John Tortorella said. "We had chances to take shots and didn't. When we did try to create offense, they played well defensively. Bottom line is they're the better team tonight."

Luongo s 38th win of the season matches Kirk McLean's franchise record from 1991-92 as Vancouver completed a five-game sweep of the Southeast. The Canucks are 8-1-1 against the Eastern Conference this season - and 17-2-1 over the last two.

"It's a nice achievement but honestly I'm happier we won the game and got two points," Luongo said of his record. "The most important stat is the playoffs and the Stanley Cup.

Johan Holmqvist, back in the Tampa goal after being pulled early in his last start, made several highlight-reel saves among his 21 stops. But after his teammates failed to capitalize on a lengthy 5-on-3, he gave away the puck behind his own net to Smolinski, who scored on a soft backhand from a sharp angle for his first goal since being acquired last week.

"Holmer gave us a chance," Tortorella said. "We were stumbling in the third."

Playing each other for the first time in more than three years, the teams combined for just six shots in the first period. But Cowan scored on one of Vancouver's four, driving the net to bang in Brendan Morrison's feed from below the goal line.

Cowan has five goals in three games after going 52 without one before a short-handed tally last Thursday that earned him a promotion to the third line.

"Getting more ice time is nice. I get to try a little more out there," said Cowan, who also scored twice in a 4-3 shootout win over Minnesota on Sunday. "And that's what I attribute it to."

The Lightning tied it after the line of Lecavalier, St. Louis and Brad Richards drew a penalty. Lecavalier, robbed by Luongo earlier, muffed a one-timer but the puck floated end over end, over Luongo, and just under the crossbar.

It was the eighth straight game Vancouver's top-ranked penalty kill gave up a goal, doubling the longest slump of the season. But the Canucks made up for it early in the third, allowing just two shots on Tampa Bay's two-man advantage. Luongo was forced to make only one big save, a glove stop on Richards' blast.

"Obviously 17 shots is not good enough against a goalie like Luongo," St. Louis said. "You just feel like you really didn't give yourself a fair chance. We've got to generate more offense and it's got to start with putting the puck on the net."

Notes: The Canucks are 9-1-1 in their last 11, but this was the first win in that stretch by more than a one-goal margin. ... The teams' last meeting was Jan. 21, 2004, and Tampa Bay had seven players that had never played against the Canucks. ... Luongo has started all 33 home games for the Canucks this season, but is expected to get a rare break on the road later this week.

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