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Salo scores in OT as Canucks beat Wild 4-3, clinch Northwest Division @NHLdotcom

VANCOUVER, B.C. - The Vancouver Canucks clinched the Northwest Division title, but the Minnesota Wild made sure they had to work for it.

Sami Salo's overtime power-play goal gave the Canucks a 4-3 victory Sunday over a Minnesota team that lived up to its Wild name. Despite being badly outplayed most of the night, Minnesota rallied from a 3-1 deficit with less than a minute left in regulation.

"We got the job done at the end of the day," said Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo, who was sharp despite the late goals. "We wanted the win and we got it so we're happy we got that out of the way."

The Canucks (48-27-4) locked up home ice advantage in the first round of the playofffs and reached the 100-point mark as Salo blasted a slapshot at 2:15 of the extra session.

Ryan Kesler, Kyle Wellwood and Alex Edler, into an empty net with 55 seconds remaining, also scored for the Canucks (48-27-4).

Andrew Brunette, Cody Almond, with his first NHL career goal, and Antti Miettinen scored for the Wild (37-35-7), whose playoff hopes ended a long time ago. Minnesota failed to win in three games at General Motors Place this season.

Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said his club was able to clinch home-ice advantage despite an injury-decimated defence corps, a record 14-game road trip due to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and player absences due to disciplinary and personal issues.

"We had challenges of injuries all year long and the guys were able to stay together and play some pretty good hockey," he said. "You don't finish first in your division by being real inconsistent and not playing good hockey."

The Canucks were playing good hockey for 59 minutes before letting the Wild back in the game. Edler's empty-netter gave Vancouver what appeared to be an insurmountable two-goal lead. But Almond, playing only his fourth NHL game, tallied with 42 seconds remaining in the third period and Miettinen scored with 18.8 left to force overtime.

"The game should have been put away earlier than what we did," Vigneault said. "We had some grade-A chances where we missed some open nets, that's going to happen. It's unfortunate what happened at the end there, a few mistakes ended up in the back of our net but at the end of the day you've got to find ways to win."

Until then, the Canucks had dominated, but were often stymied by Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who recorded 36 saves as Vancouver outshot the Wild 40-27.

"I think we were really strong most of the game tonight," Salo said. "Overall I think we're pretty happy. I think we had a lot of the scoring chances, their goalie made some big saves and we found a way to win."

Vancouver was 2-for-7 on the power play while Minnesota went 1-for-8.

After Kesler opened the scoring with a short-handed goal 5:02 into the game Vancouver took a 2-0 lead on a power play midway through the second on Wellwood's deflection of Kevin Bieksa's wrist shot from the blue-line.

Brunette reduced Vancouver's lead to 2-1 at the 10-minute mark of the third as he put in a rebound off the end boards with only four seconds left in a Minnesota power play, setting the stage for a crazy finish.

"Guys just kind of sat back too much, and the next thing you know, they get the jump on you," said Wellwood. "It's a little (frustrating) that that happens when we're up two with a minute left. We took it easy."

Almond scored his first NHL goal despite a wild ride in his first pro season. The 20-year-old Calgary native, who now calls Kelowna, B.C., home, tore a medial collateral ligament in his knee and then suffered a broken arm while playing for Houston of the AHL early in the season.

But Almond, who helped Kelowna win a WHL title and advance to the Memorial Cup final last season, was recently called up to the NHL for the first time when Minnesota ran into injury troubles of its own.

"It was nice to see the kid with a goal in his home town or close to his hometown in his first game here," said Brunette. "I'm pretty happy for him. It gave us a little life."

But Wild coach Todd Richards was not overly impressed with his club's effort. The Canucks limited the Wild to five shots in the first 30 minutes.

"The first two periods weren't very good," said Richards. "(Backstrom) was great in the nets, he gave us a chance. A big power play goal gave us some life right at the end. I think right at the end of the second, we were able to generate at least some shots and some chances on the five on three and that gave us some life in between periods but we played a much better third."

Vigneault said he would not necessarily rest key players, but he will find ways to give more ice time to those who haven't played much. Luongo will also get a breather.

"He's going to play two of the next three," said Vigneault. "He'll get one night off."

NOTES: Vancouver defenceman Christian Ehrhoff left early in the third after he "tweaked" a knee, according to Vigneault ... The Canucks announced their 300th consecutive sellout ... A scoring change on Wellwood's goal deprived Bieksa, who missed much of the season with a severed ankle tendon, of his first marker since Vancouver's season opener against Calgary on Oct. 1 ... Mikael Samuelsson returned to the Vancouver lineup after missing eight games due to a shoulder injury ... The Wild will finish the season with their fewest road wins since they posted 15 in 15-2005-06 ... Canucks defenceman Shane O'Brien apologized as he returned from a one-week exile handed out after he reported late for practice last Monday and failed to stay under his team-mandated weight limit.

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