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Canucks go for 6 in a row as Flames come to town

by Kevin Woodley

FLAMES (35-29-15) at CANUCKS (48-21-9)


Last 10: Flames 3-4-3; Canucks 6-3-1

Season Series: It's the fifth of six meetings between the Northwest Division rivals, with the Canucks holding a slight edge in the season series. Vancouver won the first two meetings in early November and early December by a combined 10-2 score, and the Flames won the next two, 3-1 two days before Christmas and 3-2 in a shootout on Feb. 11. Vancouver No.1 Roberto Luongo has been in goal for all four games, but missed Friday's with a sore neck and may watch Cory Schneider again Saturday, which is the second half of back-to-back games for both teams.

Big Story: With the playoff run for the Flames all but officially over after a 4-1 loss to Colorado on Friday night, the most intriguing story Saturday may be who plays goal for the Canucks. As of Friday night, they didn't have a clue. But the way things have been going of late in Vancouver it probably doesn't matter.

Schneider was thrust into action after Luongo aggravated a sore neck during the pregame warm up Friday against Dallas, and responded with several timely, sometimes spectacular stops among 28 saves to backstop a 5-2 win over the Stars. But coach Alain Vigneault has made it clear that Schneider is still No. 2 behind Luongo, and with the original intent of splitting the back-to-back games, could play against the Flames.

"If Louie gets up tomorrow and is good to go, he'll go," Vigneault said.

Team Scope:

Canucks: With top goal scorer Daniel Sedin out five games with a concussion, Vancouver had been struggling to score before finding goals from an unlikely source Friday night. Maxim Lapierre, a fourth-line center known more for his ability to get under opponent's skin than put pucks in the net, scored once and added two assists as a new-look top line with Henrik Sedin and Alexandre Burrows combined for seven points in the win against Dallas. For a team that had only scored five times the previous three games and was coming off consecutive 1-0 wins, it was a welcome offensive outburst.

"We've been nursing some 1-0 leads lately but I think it shows this team plays to the situation," Schneider said after the first five-game win streak in more than four months. "If we need to sit on that lead we can do it, but if we need some goals we'll do that too and find that urgency to pull away. We completely dominated that third period and sent a message that's the team we can be."

Flames: Calgary picked a terrible time for a long funk, losing for the seventh time in eight games against Colorado at home on Friday night to all but end its playoff hopes. With 85 points, the Flames are four points behind Dallas and Phoenix for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference and have just three games left.

Shaking off the disappointment after Friday's loss may not be easy.

"You prepare all season long to give yourself a chance in the playoffs and to maybe not get there, it just feels like it was almost all for nothing and you just showed up and went about your business and went home," defenseman Chris Butler said. "It's not any fun watching other teams compete and get a chance to reach that ultimate goal."

Who's Hot: Schneider may be the No.2 in Vancouver, but he's also second in the entire NHL with a .937 save percentage, fifth in the League with a 1.97 goals-against average, and 12-1-1 in 14 starts since Christmas.

Injury Report: The Flames had veteran defenseman Cory Sarich back Friday against Colorado after missing four games with an upper-body injury, but are still missing defenders Derek Smith (upper body) andTJ Brodie (upper body). CenterMikael Backlund (shoulder) is also out. … Luongo may play Saturday if his neck feels better, but Vancouver will be without top goal scorer Daniel Sedin (concussion) for a sixth straight game. Top-four defenseman Kevin Bieksa is expected to miss a third-straight game to rest up for the playoffs. Fellow blueliner Aaron Rome (knee) still hasn't skated since getting hurt in Colorado March 24, while defenseman Keith Ballard (concussion) is skating but still not cleared for full contact. Forward Andrew Ebbett (collarbone) is also skating but still on injured reserve.

Stat Pack: Canucks winger Chris Higgins opened the scoring Friday against Dallas, giving him four goals in four games despite playing on a shutdown third line that has been going up against the opposition's best forwards on a regular basis. … Vancouver's power play ended a 1-for-23 funk over seven games after Sami Salo, moved back onto the point of the first unit, fired his first goal in 16 games through a double screen. … Calgary captain Jarome Iginla spoiled the shutout bid of Colorado's Semyon Varlamov with 38 seconds left Friday and Miikka Kiprusoff pulled to create a 6-on-4. It also ended the Flames scoring drought at 139:50 and snapped a seven-game dry spell for Iginla.

Puck Drop: Vancouver's top center Henrik Sedin had three assists Friday to match his total the previous six games, part of one of the worst droughts in a decade for the 2010 Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner. One assist helped snap the Canucks' 2-for-23 funk on the power play. But just as he said when the points weren't coming, the Canucks captain was more concerned with how he played than what he produced. And for a change he wasn't talking about himself with any concern.

"If you look past the assists, personally, I played my best game in a while," Sedin said. "I felt good, I felt strong on the puck, I tried to make plays, I wanted the puck, and that's where I'm at my best."

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