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Canucks show who's No. 1 by beating Blues

by John Kreiser

The Vancouver Canucks won Thursday's battle for first place in the race for the Presidents' Trophy by out-defending the NHL's stingiest defense.

The St. Louis Blues came into their showdown in Vancouver allowing a League-low 1.91 goals per game. But the Canucks matched them check for check and hit for hit until Alexandre Burrows' goal early in the third period broke a scoreless tie. Chris Higgins added an empty-netter for a 2-0 win.

Burrows got a fortunate bounce off the end boards after Dan Hamhuis' shot missed the net and took a backhander that hit Brian Elliott in the shoulder and dropped behind the goal line. That was all the support Roberto Luongo needed for his 58th career shutout.

The Canucks became the first team to reach 90 points this season. The Blues, who lost for the first time in five games, stayed at 87 and dropped behind Detroit in the race for first place in the Central Division.

With six games on the schedule Friday, here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after Thursday's action:


Division leaders:

New York Rangers (88 points after Thursday's 3-2 win at Carolina) found a way to grind out a win at Carolina. Marian Gaborik reached the 30-goal mark, Derek Stepan set up two goals and goalie Martin Biron made 21 saves. Expect Henrik Lundqvist back in the net Friday when the Rangers visit Tampa Bay (7:30 p.m., NHLN-US).

Boston (79 points after Thursday's 4-3 overtime win against New Jersey) wasted an early two-goal lead but got a big night from David Krejci to beat the Devils. Krejci tied the game with his second goal of the game at 5:30 of the third period and completed his second NHL hat trick by scoring at 2:59 of overtime.

Florida (72 points after Thursday's 7-0 loss at Winnipeg) trailed 2-0 after two periods before the Jets' five-goal bombardment in the third blew the game open. The loss ended Florida's three-game winning streak.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (79 points) practiced Thursday at the University of Denver prior to Saturday's game at Colorado. They'll be without star defenseman Kris Letang, who has "symptoms" and will be re-evaluated by concussion specialists in Pittsburgh next week. Letang left Wednesday's game in Dallas after being leveled by Stars forward Eric Nystrom in the first period

Claude Giroux
Right Wing - PHI
GOALS: 23 | ASST: 52 | PTS: 75
SOG: 186 | +/-: 1
Philadelphia (77 points after Thursday's 6-3 win against the Islanders) allowed the first goal for the ninth straight game. But coach Peter Laviolette used his timeout 3:45 into the game to settle his team, and the Flyers responded by outmuscling the Islanders. Matt Read had 2 goals and Claude Giroux chipped in 3 assists.

Ottawa (76 points) had a second straight day off. Chicago comes to Scotiabank Place on Friday (7 p.m. ET, TSN).

New Jersey (75 points after Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss at Boston) overcame a 2-0 deficit with three second-period goals, only to allow the tying goal in the third period and lose in overtime. The Devils are winless in four straight (0-3-1).

Winnipeg (70 points after Thursday's 7-0 win against Florida) won a game it had to have by routing the visiting Panthers. Evander Kane and Jim Slater scored just over two minutes apart in the first period before Winnipeg blew the game open by scoring four times in the first 8:18 of the third. The win moved the Jets into eighth place in the East, one point ahead of Washington, and within two points of first-place Florida in the Southeast Division -- though both teams have three games in hand on Winnipeg.

On the outside looking in:

Washington (69 points) had a second straight day off. They host New Jersey on Friday.

Buffalo (66 points after Thursday's 1-0 win at San Jose) got a second straight brilliant effort by Ryan Miller in goal to improve to 5-0-2 in its last seven. One night after making 43 saves in a 2-0 win at Anaheim, he stopped 39 shots and made Drew Stafford's goal late in the first period stand up for the win. The Sabres travel to Vancouver for a game on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, CBC).

James Reimer
Goalie - TOR
RECORD: 11-11-4
GAA: 3.07 | SVP: 0.899
Toronto (65 points) is looking for answers as it prepares to visit Montreal on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, CBC). The Leafs are 1-9-1 in their last 11 games.

Tampa Bay (64 points) fell six points out of eighth place after Winnipeg won. They host the Rangers on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).


Division leaders:

Vancouver (90 points after Thursday's 2-0 win against St. Louis) allowed the game's first 10 shots in less than eight minutes, but clamped down defensively the rest of the way, allowing only 19 shots in the final 52-plus minutes. The win got the Canucks off to a good start on their seven-game homestand.

Detroit (87 points) moved back on top in the Central Division thanks to the Blues' loss. The Wings will be without captain Nicklas Lidstrom again Friday when Minnesota comes to Joe Louis Arena.

Phoenix (75 points after Thursday's 4-2 loss to Calgary) couldn't carry its February magic into March. After going 11-0-1 last month, the Coyotes found themselves down three goals after one period; they scored twice in the second but couldn't get the tying goal. The loss was their first in regulation since Anaheim beat them 4-1 on Jan. 31.

The next five:

Brian Elliott
Goalie - STL
RECORD: 20-8-2
GAA: 1.63 | SVP: 0.937
St. Louis (87 points after Thursday's 2-0 loss at Vancouver) battled the Canucks shot for shot but couldn't get a puck past Luongo and saw its four-game winning streak end despite a 22-save performance by Brian Elliott. The Blues end a six-game trip in San Jose on Saturday.

Nashville (81 points) had another off-day. The Predators don't play again until they visit Florida on Saturday.

Chicago (75 points) had the day off before beginning a tough three-game trip with just its third visit to Ottawa since 2003.

San Jose (73 points after Thursday's 1-0 loss against Buffalo) has allowed just one goal in its last two games -- but has scored just once in that span as well. The Sharks outshot the Sabres 39-19, including 28-9 in the final two periods, but went home empty-handed after missing a chance to regain first place in the Pacific Division.

Dallas (71 points) begins its first Western Canada trip of the season Friday in Edmonton (9:30 p.m. ET, TSN). Amazingly, the Stars have yet to visit the Oilers, Flames or Canucks -- they'll make another trip in the final week of March.

On the outside looking in:

Los Angeles (70 points) doesn't play until Anaheim comes to the Staples Center on Saturday.

Colorado (70 points after Thursday's 2-0 loss to Columbus) missed a chance to move into eighth place when it couldn't beat the last-place Blue Jackets at home. Steve Mason stopped 33 shots for Columbus.

Calgary (69 points after Thursday's 4-2 win at Phoenix) ended a five-game losing streak in the desert and a four-game slide overall thanks to a three-goal blitz late in the first period and some terrific goaltending by Miikka Kiprusoff. The Flames are right back at it Friday when they visit Anaheim, where they haven't won in their last 14 visits.

Minnesota (66 points after Thursday's 5-4 shootout loss at Montreal) trailed 4-1 with less than four minutes left and rallied to get a point, only to lose in the shootout. The Wild also lost starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who left 2:52 into the game with an apparent leg injury that GM Chuck Fletcher indicated could be more than a short-term thing. Expect Matt Hackett to be called up from AHL Houston before Friday's game in Detroit.

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