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GAME: St. Louis Blues (29-23-8-2) at Vancouver Canucks (34-19-7-4).

TIME: Saturday, 10 p.m. EST.

After a pair of home wins over division-leading clubs, the Vancouver Canucks look to move into first place themselves when they host the St. Louis Blues.

Vancouver beat the Central Division-leading Detroit Red Wings 4-2 on Tuesday, then defeated the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks 3-2 in overtime Thursday.

The wins moved the Canucks within two points of Colorado for first place in the Northwest Division. The Avalanche visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.

Markus Naslund returned to the lineup Thursday and set up Brent Sopel's power-play goal 2:14 into overtime to lead Vancouver to the win.

Naslund, third in the NHL in scoring, missed three games after suffering a concussion against the Avs on Feb. 16.

"I think my timing might be off a little bit and I think that's natural when you've been down for that period of time," Naslund said. "But we got the win and I think that's all that matters."

Vancouver has won two straight for the first time since a five-game run from Jan. 21-31.

"It's huge," Sopel said of the win. "We've struggled lately putting games together. It's a good confidence builder. Nobody can keep up with us when we're at the top of our game."

The Blues are scrambling to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in a quarter century, the longest streak in professional sports. So on Tuesday, general manager Larry Pleau decided it was time for a change, and fired coach Joel Quenneville.

St. Louis replaced him with assistant Mike Kitchen, and the Blues skated to a 2-2 tie with the Avs in Denver on Thursday in his debut.

The draw moved St. Louis within two points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"It's big," Blues goalie Chris Osgood said. "Now we have points in five of our last six games (3-1-1-1). We're on a little roll. We played better tonight than we have the last two months. Before, we were figuring out ways to lose."

Vancouver is 4-0-2 in its last six home games against St. Louis since a 5-2 loss on Nov. 11, 2000.

STANDINGS: Blues - 68 points, 3rd place, 15 PB, Central Division. Canucks - 79 points, 2nd place, 2 PB, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Blues - Keith Tkachuk, 26 goals and 58 points; Doug Weight, 41 assists; Mike Danton, 141 PIM. Canucks - Naslund, 30 goals, 39 assists and 69 points; Jarkko Ruutu, 116 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Feb. 26): Blues - Power play: 17.6 percent (48 for 273), 8th in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (258 for 308), 20th. Canucks - Power play: 16.1 percent (50 for 310), 16th. Penalty killing: 86.2 percent (237 for 275), 1st.

GOALTENDERS: Blues - Osgood (22-19-6, 2 SO, 2.35 GAA); Reinhard Divis (3-3-1, 3.37). Canucks - Dan Cloutier (26-18-3, 4, 2.27); Johan Hedberg (6-4-2, 1, 2.42).

SEASON SERIES: Canucks, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 29; Canucks, 4-2. At St. Louis, Magnus Arvedson scored two goals, and Daniel Sedin had a goal and two assists as the Canucks scored four times in the third period.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Blues - 11-15-3-2 on the road; Canucks - 16-10-5-0 at home.

Associated Press
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