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Canucks clinch West with win over Preds

by John Manasso
NASHVILLE – Henrik Sedin watched over the empty-net goal that helped the Vancouver Canucks clinch their first regular season Western Conference title like a mother bird nesting an egg.

Defenseman Aaron Rome's high clearing play from 170 feet away fell to the ice and glided slowly towards Nashville's yawning goal and Sedin skated slowly behind it, protecting the puck as if warding off predators.

Nine seconds after it went in, the Canucks earned a 3-1 victory, thanks to two goals by Alexandre Burrows – each assisted by the Sedin twins – including the game-winner on a breakaway with 2:29 left in regulation.

The Canucks also are only three points away – either self-earned or lost by Eastern Conference leader Philadelphia (102 points) – from securing the Presidents' Trophy.

Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said the selfless act of Henrik Sedin, who entered the game No. 3 in the League in points, was one of the things he admires about this team as it prepares to make a deep postseason run.

"You know what was the nicest thing in that whole thing tonight … Romer's goal," Vigneault said. "And I'm not kidding. To see Henrik -- who could've skated, put the puck in the net himself -- to make sure no one was going around. He knew that was Romer's goal – Romer's first goal. That says a lot about our captain, but it says a lot about our team, too, and how they think of one another."

Sedin said he saw instantly that it was Rome who shot the puck. The Canucks seemed to believe that the goal was Rome's first of his career and he received a shaving cream pie in the face for his troubles as he answered questions from reporters after the game. In fact, he scored a goal in 2007-08 when he played for Columbus. Nonetheless, it was his second in 126 career games.

Sedin commented on the struggle of coming this far with so many players going down with injuries: defensemen Alex Edler and Sami Salo for long stretches, center Manny Malhotra out for the season and, now, defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who has a concussion, leaving two of the team's top three defensemen out.

"It is something we felt before the season was going to be tough and it has been tough, but we maybe have had a lot of injuries during the season," Henrik said, "but we've had a lot of guys stepping in and playing those roles every game and it's been a fun year."

The match was a meeting of two of the League's hottest teams and it was contested every bit as tightly as that would make it seem. The Canucks won for the 11th time in 12 games while snapping Nashville's six-game winning streak. The teams, who could possibly face each other in the first round of the playoffs, finished 2-2 in the season series.

For Nashville, which held a 1-0 lead entering the third period and was 28-2-4 entering the night when leading after two periods, it was a bitter way to lose a point. Just making it to overtime could have tied them for fourth in the Western Conference – depending on what Phoenix did later against Dallas -- as they bid to make their sixth playoff appearance in seven seasons.

With the puck along the wall in Vancouver's defensive zone, Henrik Sedin won a battle and fed Daniel in the neutral zone. Daniel sprang Burrows for the breakaway. Burrows had a step on Nashville's All-Star defenseman Shea Weber and made it count. He faked forehand, came back to his backhand and roofed a shot over Preds goalie Pekka Rinne (29 saves) for his 24th of the season.

"I saw the twins were going to get it and just had a step on the (defenseman) a little bit," Burrows said. Daniel threaded the needle perfectly there and just went in. Didn't think too much. I have one move and I went with it."

After a scoreless first period, Nashville went up 1-0 in the second on Mike Fisher's third goal in two games after going 17 straight scoreless. Fisher began the play with a cycle down low and the Preds worked the puck back high above the left circle where Jon Blum snapped off a hard wrist shot. The rebound came out to Fisher on the right side, where he sent it in high over Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo at 14:01 of the second period. Sergei Kostitsyn earned the secondary assist on that goal, continuing a seven-game points streak. He has three goals and six assists in that span.

In the third – even with two Nashville power plays – the Canucks dominated play, outshooting the Preds 14-2 in the period.

"In the third period we were defensive-minded because they were on offense," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "We just turned too many pucks over in the third."

Burrows tied the game just 1:17 into the third period, a beneficiary of some of that crafty work by the Sedin brothers. With the puck behind the net, Daniel faked as if he were going left, then sent a backhand pass to Henrik who quickly threw the puck out front to Burrows. Stationed at the doorstep, Burrows tapped it past Rinne.

"I thought we were in pretty good shape to at least get a point, get it to overtime," Trotz said. "They executed on that play, Burrows scored and we're sitting here with a loss."

The Canucks, who finished this four-game road trip 4-0, soon should complete all of the goals possible for the regular season.

"It's nice," Luongo said. "It's one of our goals that we set out to accomplish when we started the year, but we have more goals ahead of us."
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