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Canucks Preview: With playoff spot secured, team shifts focus to winning division @NHLdotcom

(AP) - The Vancouver Canucks may have clinched a spot in the post-season their last time out, but their playoff push isn't finished yet.

Two nights after securing a post-season berth, the Canucks look to take another step toward their second Northwest Division title in three seasons when they visit the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.

Vancouver defenceman Sami Salo returned from a three-game absence due to a groin injury and recorded a goal and an assist Tuesday as Vancouver (46-23-7) beat Colorado 3-0 to clinch its fifth playoff appearance in six seasons.

With six games left, Vancouver has a one-point lead over Minnesota for the top spot in the division. The Wild have five games remaining.

"Like I've been saying for the last few days, I think our focus is really shifting onto the division now," goalie Roberto Luongo told the team's official website after stopping 34 shots for his fifth shutout of the season Tuesday.

"It's nice to have a spot in the playoffs but we want to try and stay focused for the last few games to try to win our division."

That focus has been apparent over the last two weeks. The Canucks are 5-0-1 in their last six games, outscoring opponents 14-4 in the wins, and have surrendered only two power-play goals in 28 opportunities (7.1 per cent).

"Anybody who's been in the playoffs knows the teams that play well defensively and get some contribution on the special teams are going to go a long way," Salo said. "We're going to bear down in the last couple games here and try and get into that mode."

While the Canucks are streaking toward the post-season, the Kings (26-37-14) will miss the playoffs for a franchise record-tying fourth straight season. Los Angles has had four-season playoff droughts twice before, 1969-73 and 1993-97.

The Kings were outscored 2-0 in the third period of their 3-1 loss to San Jose on Tuesday, finishing 1-2-0 on a three-game trip. Los Angeles is just 15-15-9 at home and will be facing a Vancouver team that owns one of the best road records in the NHL at 21-14-3.

The Canucks are 1-0-1 against the Kings this season, including a 3-2 victory on Feb. 22 as Vancouver stopped seven of Los Angeles' eight power-play opportunities.

"They're effective on the penalty kill because their goalie's probably the best in the league," said Kings coach Marc Crawford, who coached Vancouver from 1999-2006.

Los Angeles hopes to get a defensive lift of its own on Thursday, as University of Michigan defenceman Jack Johnson - the third overall pick in the 2005 draft - is expected to join the team for the first time since signing a multi-year contract on Tuesday.

"It's great for our team and fans, because you need talented players to win," Crawford said. "All reports are that he's a very talented player. He's a very passionate player, and we can use an influx of both for our team."

These clubs close out their season series April 3 in Vancouver.

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