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Canucks blank struggling Avs 3-0

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER -- If history really does repeat, get ready for another big run by the Vancouver Canucks.  

It was a year ago nearly to the day when the Canucks were playing mediocre hockey before using a victory over the Colorado Avalanche as a springboard to a monster run that eventually led to a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Canucks are hopeful that their 3-0 win over the Avalanche on Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center will be a similar catalyst.

The Canucks began the evening with 21 points, the same total as on Nov. 24, 2010, when they pinned a 4-2 loss on the Avalanche and went on to win five of their next six games and 18 of 22 to seize control of the Western Conference.

Vancouver had a relatively easy time of it Wednesday. Goals from Manny Malhotra and Alexandre Burrows staked goalie Cory Schneider to a 2-0 lead and Ryan Kesler added an empty-net goal with 29.4 seconds left in the third period.

The win gave Canucks coach Alain Vigneault his 247th victory, breaking a tie with Marc Crawford for the most in franchise history.

"It was one of our best efforts all year," Schneider said after posting his first shutout of the season and the second of his NHL career. "Just how we had guys back and didn't get many on the rush. We blocked a ton of shots and we kept them to the outside. Obviously, they are going to get their chances on the power play; they're dangerous and it was the only area where they did get any looks. We did a great job of killing them off."

Schneider, making his third start in a row as Roberto Luongo recovers from an upper-body injury, finished with 24 saves. His best stop came at the 10-minute mark of the third period shortly after an Avalanche power play expired. Schneider moved from left to right and dropped down just in time to get his blocker on a puck shot by Ryan O'Reilly, who was looking at an open corner.

"We didn't give them a lot, other than on the power play, and that is when I have to come up big and make a few saves," Schneider said. "It's on me to make some saves like that to keep it at two and give our guys a cushion."

The Canucks have had their way with the Avalanche. They have gone 6-0-1 against Colorado in the past seven meetings, 9-0-2 in the past 11 and 7-1-2 in their last 10 games in Denver.

The Canucks outshot the Avalanche 16-6 in the opening period and took a 1-0 lead on Malhotra's first goal of the season at 17:03. Rookie Cody Hodgson was in the left circle when he passed to Malhotra in the slot for a quick shot past goalie Semyon Varlamov.

"Both Danny (Hamhuis) and Cody made some great plays in the corner," Malhotra said. "Cody put a great pass right on my tape. I didn't see where the goalie was, but I put enough on it to get it by him. We were able to keep a high tempo and kept them in their zone most of the time."

Schneider made two big saves with a little over a minute left in the period. He stopped Kevin Porter, who made a nifty move to skate by defenseman Kevin Bieksa, and turned aside Chuck Kobasew's stab at the rebound.

Burrows scored at 7:33 of the second period. After taking a pass from Hamhuis, he skated into the left circle and fired the puck over sliding defenseman Shane O'Brien and inside the left post.

The Canucks and Avalanche started the night with the first- and second-ranked power plays in the NHL but combined to go 0-for-7. Trailing by two goals in the third period, the Avalanche went on three consecutive power plays and couldn't cut into the Canucks' lead.

The Avs, who has lost seven of 10 home games this season and five of its past six games overall, held a team meeting after the game.

"We're on home ice; it should be easy for us to play on this ice," center Paul Stastny said. "We're well rested and I don't think there are any distractions. We can't score goals. The frustrations are pretty high. The worst part about this game right now is we have two days before our next game (Saturday against Edmonton). That's a lot of time to think about it. We have to find a way. We have to look at ourselves, everyone, and play for the guy next to each other and find a way to get goals."
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