VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks have yet to lose this season after taking 18 leads into the third period.
It helps to have goalie Roberto Luongo preserving those wins.
Luongo was stingy again Sunday night, making the best of his 21 saves in the final 20 minutes as the Canucks beat the Anaheim Ducks 2-1.
"The confidence is there to know that we can protect those leads and we all know what we've got to do to make sure that when we're ahead, that we work hard and not give the opposition anything to build off," Luongo said.
Luongo, who finished second in balloting for both the Hart (MVP) and Vezina (best goalie) trophies last season, was sharpest after he drew a tripping penalty.
He stopped a Chris Pronger shot through traffic and fended off Todd Bertuzzi and Corey Perry while playing without a stick. By that time the two burly forwards had pushed him deep into his net.
In addition, Scott Niedermayer couldn't get a deflection by the Canucks netminder.
"It's the ref's job to protect him," Markus Naslund said of his goalie after the Canucks ran their streak to 10-0-2 on home ice.
"You can only do so much but he seemed to make the saves even though they were on top of him. That's why he's the best."
Daniel Sedin, who finished off a three-way passing play into an open net with a two-man advantage, and Matt Cooke gave Vancouver a 2-0 lead after 24 minutes 18 seconds. Slick passes by Henrik Sedin set up both goals.
The Canucks had to hang on from there and Ryan Getzlaf drew the Ducks to within one goal of a tie midway through the third period.
But Vancouver improved to 22-13-4 and moved two points ahead of the idle Minnesota Wild atop the tight Northwest Division.
"Luongo's one of the best goalies in the league for a reason and he gives them a chance to win every night," Getzlaf said after scoring his 14th goal of the campaign.
Anaheim forced Luongo to make only 11 saves after 40 minutes and the Vancouver netminder jokingly said he took his penalty "just to get some action going.
"I was looking at the puck behind the net and my stick was stuck on the post. I couldn't move. The only thing I could have done is drop my stick not to make him fall. I asked for an explanation but didn't get one."
The Canucks were outshot 11-3 in the final period and played most of it in their own end but Luongo gave them no reason to panic.
"It's quite a change from the first month of the season," Luongo said of Vancouver's 1-6 start at home. "We've been getting off to some early leads and it's been key for us, playing with that confidence, that we can preserve that lead."
Getzlaf said Luongo was equal to heavy traffic in his goal crease.
"When you've got a goalie playing like that you've definitely got to get in front of him and get those second and third opportunities to get it past him. We had two or three shots in a row and he was able to scramble around and find the puck."
Bertuzzi, whose club lost for the second time in two nights to fall to 19-17-5, said a poor start didn't help the Stanley Cup champions, who eliminated Vancouver in a five-game second-round series last spring.
"We had an effort like that in the third period when we should have used it in the first and second. It's a little disappointing."
Cooke, whose sixth goal of the season was his first game-winner, said it was important to get the victory in the first of back-to-back games as the Canucks play New Year's Eve in Calgary.
"Everyone knows the schedule. We have a lot of back-to-backs and three (games) in four (nights) as well.
"You can look for being tired as an excuse and a crutch but at the end of the day if you can be over .500 in those games, you're going to be successful."
NOTES: Daniel Sedin's goal was a team-leading 17th and fifth in five games. . . . Doug Weight, recently obtained by Anaheim in a trade with the St. Louis Blues, played his 1,100th career game. . . . Brian Sutherby returned for Anaheim after missing seven games with a groin strain. . . . Willie Mitchell (back) and Cooke (ankle) were in the Vancouver lineup after missing practice on Friday. . . . Vancouver centre Ryan Kesler was back after missing a game with a concussion. . . . It was the third road game in four nights for the Ducks, who play five of their next six at home.