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Canucks can claim Northwest crown by beating Wild

by John Kreiser
WILD (37-35-6) at CANUCKS (47-27-4)

Last 10 -- Minnesota 4-6-0; Vancouver 5-4-1

Season series --
It's the sixth and final meeting between the Northwest Division rivals, with the Wild looking for their third win in a row and a split for the season. Vancouver won the first three games; Minnesota won the last two, including a 6-2 victory at the Xcel Energy Center on Feb. 14 in the last meeting.

Big story -- The Canucks wrapped up a playoff berth with a win at Anaheim on Friday; they can claim their third division title in four years with a victory over the Wild in front of the home folks at GM Place. Minnesota’s playoff hopes officially ended Friday when the Wild lost 3-2 at home to San Jose.

Team Scope:

Wild -- Minnesota, which is starting a three-game trip, will be playing for pride alone after being assured of missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons after winning the division title in 2007-08.

"The writing was kind of on the wall, but it's never fun playing these games when you're mathematically eliminated," forward Andrew Brunette said. "We'll have to find a different kind of motivation and end the year on the right note."

Canucks -- Vancouver got some unexpected offense in Friday night's win from rookie forward Michael Grabner, their first-round pick in 2006. Grabner scored once in the second period and twice in the third for his first NHL hat trick; he came into the game having scored just twice all season and not at all since Oct. 25 -- though he missed much of the season with an injury.

"The kid's got a lot of skills," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Sometimes those things just happen. He stayed after it in some tough situations out there and made it happen."

Who's hot --
Guillaume Latendresse has 25 goals in 53 games since coming over in a November trade with Montreal. … NHL scoring leader Henrik Sedin was held off the scoresheet on Friday but has 9 points in his last five games. His 105 points are a single-season franchise record.

Injury report -- Minnesota hopes to have Martin Havlat back after he missed Friday's game due to illness. … Vancouver's Mikael Samuelsson remains out with a shoulder injury, while Willie Mitchell (concussion) and Steve Bernier (sports hernia) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack --
The Canucks have tied a franchise record with their 28 home wins. … Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo has struggled since leading Canada to the Olympic gold medal. He is 7-6-1 with a 3.58 goals-against average in his last 14 games. … Anaheim scored a 5-on-3 goal against Vancouver on Friday night, the first allowed by the Canucks this season.

Puck drop --
The 18,810 fans who will fill GM Place Sunday night hope the Easter Bunny puts a division title in their baskets. This game and the three that follow it will be a big test for the resolve of the Wild players and coaching staff.

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