VANCOUVER (CP) - The speed of Matt Cooke and Brendan Morrison made up for some defensive miscues by the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.
Cooke got Vancouver back on track with a goal late in the first period while Morrison scored twice, including the winner, in a 5-4 NHL victory over the Colorado Avalanche. They have been skating on a line with 18-year veteran Trevor Linden and scoring key goals during the 17-3-3 run that the Canucks have been on since Christmas.
"We have an understanding on where to go, when guys are going and what our tendencies are with the puck," said Cooke, who was set up by Morrison to forge a 2-2 tie then assisted on Morrison's 15th and 16th goals of the season.
"Obviously Mo and I want to carry as much speed as we can and back guys off," said Cooke, whose crash-and-bang style contrasts with Morrison's passing ability and Linden's savvy.
"We've been together quite a bit the last couple of months and are getting used to playing with each other, that's for sure."
It's helped the Canucks regain sole possession of first place in the tight Northwest Division that will likely produce the Western Conference's third seed in the playoffs.
Vancouver is two points ahead of the Calgary Flames and three up on the Minnesota Wild. All have played 59 games.
Cooke got his second goal in as many games when he broke into the slot to rifle Morrison's pass over goalie Jose Theodore's glove, and set up Morrison in the second period with a pass from the corner.
He also saw some rare power-play time in the third period when Morrison gave Vancouver a decisive 5-3 edge by scoring on a sharp-angled shot.
Daniel Sedin, with his 25th goal of the season, and Henrik Sedin also scored. Henrik Sedin and Morrison scored 2:20 apart on Vancouver's first two shots of the final period.
The Canucks (34-21-4) have won five of their last six games to set the pace in the torrid race for their division lead.
The Avalanche (28-27-4), last in the Northwest Division, lost for the eighth time in 12 games and remain nine points out of a playoff berth.
But that doesn't mean there's much breathing room for Vancouver, Cook said.
"We can't even for one second think or look for that. It doesn't get easy. You look at the road since Christmas and we're still just three points out of eighth so we can't look any further than our next game."
Andrew Brunette with two goals - his third in two nights - led the Avalanche, who held a pair of one-goal leads when they outworked the Canucks in the Vancouver end.
Brad Richardson, who scored short-handed after Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa gambled at the Avalanche blue-line, and Ian Laperriere, also beat goalie Roberto Luongo whose club was outshot 36-20.
"Colorado's a great offensive team and they like to run and gun and we got caught up in that a little bit," said Morrison who has turned his season around after struggling early in the schedule after off-season hip surgery.
"It wasn't a typical Canuck game. We were a little loose in our own zone, but give them credit, they're very good behind the goal line and create a lot of offence down there."
The Avalanche lost its second road game in as many nights.
"I thought even tonight we had our chances to win, it's just the last couple of games we haven't found a way," said captain Joe Sakic. "It's not that we're playing that bad, but we have to win these games, especially this time of year."
Coach Joel Quenneville felt his club could win until Vancouver struck quickly in the third period, much like the Flames did on Saturday.
"We've lost a lot of games like this," he said. "Third-period games are on the line."
Laperriere said the Avalanche, who beat Vancouver the first three times the teams played, need to be sharper at crucial times.
"Every little mistake and it seems the puck is in the back of our net," he said. "It's disappointing for sure."
NOTES: Sakic and Paul Stastny picked up assists to extend their points streaks to eight games ... rookie Wojtek Wolski, who took a hard hit Saturday night from Calgary's Craig Conroy, was out of the Avalanche lineup ... Linden played his 1,300th NHL game ... Vancouver returned diminutive centre Brandon Reid to AHL Manitoba ... the Canucks begin a four-game road trip Tuesday in Anaheim ... other stops are Los Angeles, Dallas and St. Louis.