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Kesler's hat trick leads Canucks to 5-0 victory

by Dhiren Mahiban
VANCOUVER, B.C. – After dropping a pair of games to the last-place Edmonton Oilers, the Vancouver Canucks wanted to make sure they closed out their home schedule on the right foot.

The Canucks, who celebrated the first regular-season championship in franchise history before Thursday night's game, did just that by blanking the Minnesota Wild 5-0 with the help of a three-goal performance from Ryan Kesler.

Kesler's third goal made him the fifth 40-goal scorer in the NHL this season. The Canucks are the only team with two -- NHL scoring leader Daniel Sedin has 41. Kesler finished the season with 7 goals in six games against the Wild.

"It's a good milestone, but it was good to get the win and get back on track," Kesler said while downplaying his first 40-game season. "We definitely didn't play our best hockey the last couple games and it was good to play a full 60 like that."

Daniel Sedin added to his point total by picking up a pair of assists. He leads Anaheim's Corey Perry 102-97 in the Art Ross Trophy race.

The Canucks wasted little time adding to their League-leading point total against the struggling Wild.

After Mason Raymond opened the scoring 8:12 into the game, Kesler made it 2-0 with 28 seconds left in the opening period, redirecting a Henrik Sedin feed past Niklas Backstrom for a power-play goal.

The 18,860 in attendance got into the spirit early in the second, throwing a fish onto the ice just inside the Minnesota blue line in front of the Vancouver bench.

Kesler made it 3-0 with his 39th of the season, beating Backstrom high to the glove side from the right faceoff dot at 7:20 of the second period. Raymond made it 4-0 with his 15th of the season at 9:11 before Kesler completed his third hat trick -- all this season -- and reached the 40-goal mark with a backhander past Backstrom's blocker at 2:18 of the third.

Backstrom was pulled after Kesler's third and finished the night surrendering five goals on 23 shots. Jose Theodore made five saves in relief.

"We have to find a way to be at our best every night," said Backstrom, who dropped to 22-23-5 with the loss. "It's a great chance for the kids to play these games, play against the best team in the League so that's going to help them for sure - give them some great experience."

Luongo, likely playing for the last time before the playoffs start next week, earned his 55th career shutout -- passing Ed Giacomin and Bernie Parent for 17th on the all-time list. Luongo is now 5-1-0 in his last six decisions.

"I was looking for maybe something to let in there at the end, nothing happened. I don't like shutouts," joked Luongo, who has seen a few shutout bids get away from him this season. "Sometimes you got to joke about it. I haven't had many this year, but it was nice to get one."

The Wild (37-35-8) dropped to 19-18-3 on the road this season and are winless in their last seven visits to Vancouver.

Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler played 18:59, a shot on goal and had four hits in his first game back after missing 31 with a back injury.

"I thought (Edler) looked really good," fellow defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "It seemed like he really got involved physically and it looked like he felt strong on his feet. "He's back to his old self - he's shooting the puck and it's nice to see."

Prior to the game, the Canucks were presented with the Presidents' Trophy by NHL Vice President of Hockey Operations Kris King. Manny Malhotra, who is out for the season with an eye injury, and captain Henrik Sedin posed for pictures with the award -- but did not touch it. The Canucks also honored former coach Roger Nielson by unveiling a statue outside Rogers Arena.

Coach Alain Vigneault said the Canucks would again play with seven defenseman, rather than call up a forward, when the team travels to Calgary on Saturday for the final regular-season game. Raffi Torres was suspended for four games by the NHL on Thursday, and the Canucks went with 11 forwards.

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