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Northwest: Canucks survived trip, stay atop division

by Roger Phillips
The Canucks finished their Olympic-related record 14-game road trip Wednesday with a 4-3 shootout loss at Phoenix. With the setback, the Canucks concluded the arduous journey with an 8-5-1 record.

The most important win of all on the trip came Tuesday at Colorado in the second of only two division games on the journey. When the Canucks look back on winning the Northwest Division title a month from now, this is a game they will remember.

The Canucks were down 3-0 after the first period, seemingly headed toward being tied atop the division with the Avalanche. But Mikael Samuelsson came to the rescue, scoring goals 25, 26 and 27 in the second period to leave Vancouver down only a goal entering the third.

Alex Burrows scored his 30th midway through the third, Jannik Hansen scored what proved to be the winner with 2:08 left, and Daniel Sedin scored into an empty net in the final nine seconds to drive a stake into the Avalanche's heart. Colorado defenseman John Michael-Liles told reporters it was "the most frustrating loss we've had in a long time."

The Canucks may get lost on the way to GM Place on Saturday to face Ottawa. They haven't played at home since beating St. Louis, 3-2, on Jan. 27. They last lost a home game, 3-2, to Nashville on Jan. 11.

Sedin had not scored in 11 games prior to the Avalanche game. Coach Alain Vigneault gave Sedin a practice off early this week.

Asked why, Vigneault told the Vancouver Province, "I would say all over this great (14-game) trip of ours, he needed a day off ... and he'll be fine."

Nearly departed -- At 38, Owen Nolan has accomplished just about everything in hockey. Everything, that is, except winning a Stanley Cup.

He probably isn't going to win one this season with the Wild, who are on the bubble for the playoffs. But he almost had a chance to take a run at the Cup this season because GM Chuck Fletcher gave him the chance to be traded to a contender.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nolan is believed to have expressed a willingness to rejoin the Sharks or to be traded to Washington. But the trade deadline came and went, and Nolan stayed put.

Nolan told the newspaper he's still holding out hope the Wild can make a late-season run and then be a Cinderella postseason team.

"I'm not giving up on this team," he said. "When we're playing at the top of our game, we can compete with every team in this League. We have a good team and we plan to battle it out right to the end. Nothing's ever over."

Wild coach Todd Richards is a Nolan fan.

"You see it out on the ice and the things that he does, but there's so much that he does that you guys don't see," Richards said. "Influence, leadership -- he's a valuable, valuable guy."
Nolan told the Star Tribune: "I'm having fun. If I wasn't having fun, I would have retired by now. I enjoy playing, I enjoy competing, I enjoy battling, and this team makes it real easy."
Reunited --
Flames goalies Miikka Kiprusoff and Vesa Toskala are Finnish and began their NHL careers in San Jose. Now, with Toskala acquired recently by the Flames, they're together again.

Toskala was acquired from Anaheim, which only recently had picked him up from Toronto. His Flames debut was a 5-2 win against Minnesota on Sunday in which he made 27 saves.

"It's been a little bit of a broken season," Toskala told the Calgary Herald. "From now on, I just try to help this team win games and try to stay positive."

Toskala said he expected to be traded by Toronto, but was caught off-guard when he was dealt by the Ducks. He thought there was a chance Anaheim might trade him, but it didn't occur to him that Calgary could be his destination. Rejoining Kiprusoff is making the transition easier.

"It's always nice to see friends no matter where you go," Toskala told the Herald. "He's a good guy, one of the top goalies in the League so, yeah, we got some little laughs. ... It's good to see him."

Kiprusoff said, "We played against each other our whole lives. It's good to see him here. I think he's going to help us out. He's a good guy ... a relaxed guy. We get along well."
Tough love -- For many Oilers fans, supporting the team these days means rooting for the opposition. Many Edmonton followers want the team to keep losing and lock up the worst record in the League.

The Oilers are in excellent position to finish 30th, and doing so would ensure them of no worse than the second pick in the 2010 Entry Draft. If Edmonton can eke out a loss to Toronto on Saturday, the Oilers might just lock themselves in the cellar.

Though some Oilers fans are cheering for the opposition, the players aren't buying into the March Badness, even though they understand it.

"As an organization, you look at teams like Pittsburgh, who've managed to get players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and how great they've become," defenseman Tom Gilbert told the Canadian Press. "If you go out there and you want to get that first or second pick and you want to lose, that's a loser mentality. As a player, you don't want that to sink into you. You play to win regardless of what place you're in. Anything else is a loser mentality."

Earning the first or second pick would guarantee the Oilers the chance to draft either highly-touted forward Taylor Hall of the Windsor Spitfires or the other top prospect, forward Tyler Seguin of the Plymouth Whalers.

Oilers players understandably don't want to finish worst overall, but on the other hand, they don't have to look very far to see a team that benefited this season from an infusion of young talent.
Just last season, the Avalanche had the worst record in the Western Conference. This season, center Matt Duchene, the third pick of the 2009 draft, has been a big part of Colorado's turnaround. So there are worse things than earning a top pick, whether or not current Oilers choose to believe it.
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