VANCOUVER (CP) - Daniel Sedin scored the winner in a shootout but it was a pair of pretty goals from hard-nosed Jeff Cowan that helped the Vancouver Canucks keep their hold on first place in the NHL's tight Northwest Division with a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild Sunday night.
Sedin, the sixth shooter, deked Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom to the ice, then slid the puck past him.
"I just faked the shot and the goalie bought it," Sedin said about the winning goal.
Cowan, more used for his role as a deterrent than being a difference, has scored three goals in his last two matches. That comes after going 52 games without a goal.
"It wouldn't have meant much if we didn't win that game," he said after the first two-goal game in his eight-year career.
"It builds for the team if I can try to create some havoc out there. If I can chip in like I did tonight, it helps the team build more confidence."
The win, before an announced sellout crowd of 18,630, improved Vancouver's record to 38-22-5 for 81 points, putting them two points ahead of Minnesota in the race for the division lead.
The Wild are 36-23-76, leaving them third in the Division and hanging onto to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Calgary Flames also have 79 points but are second in the division because they have played less games.
The other Canuck goal came from Sami Salo, while defenceman Willie Mitchell, a former Wild, had two assists.
Salo's goal was his 11th of the season, a career high for the veteran defenceman who becomes a free agent at the end of the year.
Minnesota's Kim Johnsson forced a five-minute overtime when he tied the game on a power-play goal at 14:29 of the third period.
Also scoring for the Wild was Branko Radivojevic and Marian Gaborik, who collected his 23rd goal in 32 games. Of the nine goals Radivojevic has scored this season, five have been against the Canucks.
Backstrom said a win would have been nice but the point the Wild earned could be important at the end of the year.
"You have to look at the whole picture," said Backstrom, who returned to action after a groin injury. "There are a lot of games ahead of us and I think we are going to count the points after 82 games.
"These points can be huge in the future. We have to focus on how we play. It was a good thing in the third period we could come back and score a tie."
Cowan, who has 73 penalty minutes in 46 games, showed he can use his hands for more than throwing punches when he put the Canucks ahead 3-2 at 12:42 of the second period on a nifty deflection.
Mitchell fired a shot from the point that Cowan redirected in the air past Backstrom.
His first goal of the night came early in the second period, just 64 seconds after Gaborik had put Minnesota ahead 2-1. Mitchell fired a shot that Cowan deflected past Backstrom.
The Canucks claimed Cowan off waivers from Los Angeles on Dec. 30 to add some grit to their lineup. His steady play and take-no-prisoners style has earned him a spot on a line with Brendan Morrison and Matt Cooke.
"It's a nice opportunity to play with those two guys," said Cowan, whose career high is nine goals in a season. "You get a little more ice time and it feels great to be able to chip in like I did tonight."
Cowan's efforts drew praise from coach Alain Vigneault.
"He played extremely well and got two goals that are the type of goals that are scored in the NHL today," said Vigneault. "He went to the net, screened the goaltender and tipped it by."
Vigneault laughed when asked if he considered putting Cowan in the shootout.
"I was just thinking one shooter at a time," he said.
Cowan admitted he wondered if he might get a tap on the shoulder.
"I was getting a little nervous but I would have been ready if he had called on me," he said. "They picked the right guys and we got the job done."
In the first period Cowan stood up for his teammates when Minnesota's Derek Boogaard was running guys all over the ice, hitting everything in a Canuck uniform. The six-foot-two Cowan got involved in a shoving match with the six-foot-seven Boogaard, drawing a penalty, but showing he was on duty.
The Canucks improved their shootout record to 5-3 and are 14-5 in games that go beyond regulation.
Notes: - Canuck centre Josh Green will be out six weeks after suffering a MCL sprain in his right knee in Thursday's win over Phoenix. ...Luongo's win over Phoenix Thursday was his 36th of the season, breaking his previous high of 35 wins last year with Florida. ...Luongo has faced 30 or more shots 31 times in the 61 games he's played this year.