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Higgins scores twice, including winner in OT, as Canucks rally to beat Avalanche, 3-2 @NHLdotcom

DENVER - Another divisional banner was hardly a reason for the Vancouver Canucks to celebrate.

So, they didn't. Not even in the least.

For a team with bigger ambitions, this was simply another step along the journey.

Chris Higgins had two goals, including the winner at 1:40 of overtime, and Vancouver rallied to beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on Saturday night as the Canucks wrapped up their fourth straight Northwest Division crown.

But judging by their demeanour, it was hard to tell they'd won anything. The Canucks were a rather subdued bunch.

Then again, there's still plenty of work to do.

"We have our sights set on catching St. Louis," said Higgins, whose team actually sewed up the division before the game courtesy of Calgary's loss in Dallas.

The Blues are definitely within reach in the race for the top seed in the Western Conference as the Canucks climbed to within two points.

"It should be fun down the stretching trying to catch them," Higgins added.

Fun, indeed.

Only, the Canucks are treating this more like business.

"It's just one step," said Roberto Luongo, who stopped 38 shots. "We have lots of goals ahead of us that we want to accomplish. ... Tonight was a good start."

Gabriel Landeskog and Jamie McGinn scored for the Avalanche, who have earned at least a point in nine of their last 11 games to remain in the thick of the playoff chase.

But just barely.

The Avs desperately needed those two points. They're running out of games to make up ground. They start a pivotal road stretch by taking on San Jose, Vancouver and Calgary over a five-day stretch.

"We have to get over it, move on and get ready for this road trip," Ryan O'Reilly said. "We don't know how it's going to play out."

On the winning play, Jannik Hansen outmuscled defenceman Tyson Barrie in the corner and fed a wide open Higgins, who lined it past Semyon Varlamov.

"It probably wasn't the prettiest one, but I got it on net and it went in," Higgins said.

Hey, there are no style points for game-winners.

Luongo shined in net all night as the Canucks improved to 5-0 against Colorado this season.

Vancouver was without Daniel Sedin for a second straight game due to concussion-like symptoms.

The star forward was hurt when Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith lunged at Sedin in the neutral zone in the first period of Chicago's 2-1 overtime victory last Wednesday, catching Sedin in the head with his elbow. Keith was suspended for five games by the NHL.

Varlamov showed he's an adept passer as he set up the Avalanche's second goal. With the Canucks making a line change, the young Russian goalie sent a long outlet pass to Paul Stastny, who dished it over to McGinn and he took it from there, scoring his 20th goal.

When Varlamov's name was announced for the assist, the capacity crowd roared. It was just the second assist of his career.

"I was lucky," he said with a shrug.

Soon after, Vancouver came roaring back from the 2-0 deficit as the Canucks figured out a little flaw in Varlamov's game ??? the high shot.

Mason Raymond and Higgins both went high to beat Varlamov within a 1:35 span. That quickly, it was a new game.

"The boys really took over in the second period," Luongo said.

Colorado's penalty kill unit was in fine working order early in the game, as the team weathered one power play after another.

Near the end of the first period, David Jones was called for a double-minor after his stick hit Kevin Bieksa in the face and drew blood. The Avs bottled up the Canucks for the rest of the period and then the opening 1:34 to start the second period.

This after surviving a 5-on-3 opportunity by Vancouver for more than a minute in the middle of the first period. A few kick saves from Varlamov and three blocked shots with the body by Ryan O'Byrne helped the Avs maintain their lead.

Colorado scored early in the first period on a power play when Milan Hejduk's shot ricocheted off the pads of Luongo and a hustling Landeskog slapped it in.

Landeskog is making a strong case for the Calder Trophy, which is awarded to the top rookie. He leads all first-year players in goals, shots and takeaways.

Chuck Kobasew made his return to the lineup after sitting out nearly a month with a sore back. It didn't take long for him to get reacquainted with the action as he decked Aaron Rome in retaliation for the defenceman's earlier hit on Barrie. That led to a brief skirmish between Kobasew and a couple of Canucks players.

Rome tweaked his knee and will be re-evaluated Sunday. Canucks coach Alain Vigneault didn't think it was serious and said Rome could be out for about a week.

And while the Canucks really didn't focus too much on capturing another divisional title following the game, Vigneault did concede it was a nice honour.

"That's a pretty good thing," Vigneault said. "It's not easy."

Notes: Avalanche D Erik Johnson missed a third straight game with a balky back. ... Colorado scored two power-play goals for the first since Dec. 15 in San Jose. ... With two assists, Bieksa has a career-high 34.

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