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Canucks continue road trip against Avalanche

by Brian Hunter

CANUCKS (23-11-6) at AVALANCHE (13-22-6)


Last 10: Vancouver 8-2-0; Colorado 2-6-2

Season series: Fourth and final meeting of the regular season between these Northwest Division rivals. The Vancouver Canucks are going for the sweep, having outscored the Colorado Avalanche by a 10-3 aggregate in their first three games.

Big story: The Canucks seem to be rounding into form with four straight wins, the last two with center Ryan Kesler back in the lineup. Kesler scored the winning goal in his first game back and added a pair of assists in his second game.

Team Scope:

Canucks: Assuming he's over the flu, Cory Schneider figures to be back between the pipes on Saturday afternoon. Either way, the brief NHL career of Dustin Butler is probably over. Vancouver signed the 25-year-old University of Calgary goalie to back up Roberto Luongo for Wednesday's game against the Flames after Schneider fell ill and the Canucks couldn't get one of their American Hockey League netminders to the Scotiabank Saddledome in time. A three-goal burst in the final eight minutes led the Canucks to a 4-1 win and Luongo made 40 saves.

"I was nervous, which go figure after 12 years in the League, you're still nervous to play a game," said Luongo, who hadn't started since March 18. "It was an important game for me and I wanted to make sure I gave the team a chance to win. The boys battled hard and got rewarded in the third with some goals."

Avalanche: Only seven games remaining for Colorado, and injury has been added to insult as the Avalanche will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third season in a row and their goalies are starting to drop like flies. Semyon Varlamov (hip) has played in only two games this month, so to give veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere a night off the Avs called up Sami Aittokallio to make his NHL debut Thursday against the Kings. Aittokallio was solid, stopping 23 of 25 shots, but had to leave in the third period after cramping up in both legs and Giguere was beaten on all three L.A. shootout attempts in a 3-2 defeat.

"There's been lots of positives the last two games," Giguere said. "We needed a bit of a push back from the guys. I think we did that the last couple of nights … we had a rookie goaltender, his first NHL start in goal. It's always a tough way to go. He battled hard for us."

Who's hot: Henrik Sedin has two goals and five assists in the past four games for the Canucks. Dan Hamhuis has two goals and two assists during a four-game points streak.

Injury report: Schneider is day-to-day for Vancouver, which will be without forward Chris Higgins (knee) and defenseman Christopher Tanev (leg) indefinitely. … Aittokallio could dress Saturday, while Varlamov is also day-to-day along with defenseman Erik Johnson (hand) and forwards Milan Hejduk (shoulder) and Chuck Kobasew (back). Defenseman Ryan Wilson (ankle) is on injured reserve.

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