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GAME: Vancouver Canucks (36-21-9-4) at Edmonton Oilers (28-27-12-3).

TIME: Friday, 9 p.m. EST.

Overtaking Colorado for the Northwest Division title figured to be hard enough for the Vancouver Canucks.

Attempting it without All-Star forward Todd Bertuzzi makes the task seem highly unlikely.

After learning they will be without Bertuzzi for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs, the Canucks will try to close the gap on the Avalanche when they face the Edmonton Oilers.

As a result of one of the NHL's ugliest on-ice incidents, the Canucks won't have Bertuzzi - their second-leading scorer - for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.

Late in Monday's 9-2 loss to the Avalanche, Bertuzzi slugged Colorado's Steve Moore in the side of the head from behind and drove him into the ice. Moore landed face-first - with the 245-pound Bertuzzi on top of him - and lay in a pool of blood for several minutes before he was removed on a stretcher.

Moore is out for the season with a broken neck. He also sustained a concussion and deep cuts on his face, and remained hospitalized in Vancouver.

Bertuzzi's suspension will amount to a minimum of 17 games if the Canucks make the playoffs and are swept in a first-round series. He also will forfeit at least $500,000.

Bertuzzi broke down several times while apologizing to Moore on Wednesday.

"When we told you guys how disappointed and how upset he was, we weren't joking," Canucks goalie Dan Cloutier said. "He's taking it pretty hard and he's a human being, too."

Knowing his team would be without Bertuzzi, Canucks general manager Brian Burke acquired offensive-minded forwards Martin Rucinsky and Geoff Sanderson and defenseman Marc Bergevin at Tuesday's trade deadline.

Sanderson paid immediate dividends, as he scored with 4:17 left in regulation to give Vancouver a 1-1 tie against Minnesota on Wednesday.

"Having the new guys come in, it brought different energy," Cloutier said. "The rest of the guys that have been here just followed those new guys."

Despite the tie, the Canucks dropped four points behind Colorado for the Northwest Division lead.

Edmonton still has its sights set on the playoffs, but must pass ninth-place St. Louis before joining the top eight teams in the Western Conference.

The Oilers recorded at least a point for the seventh straight game with a 3-2 overtime loss to Colorado on Wednesday.

Georges Laraque and Petr Nedved scored for Edmonton, 3-0-2-2 in its last seven.

"We're in a situation where we can't afford to only get one point, but when you consider it's a back-to-back game, it's still pretty satisfying," Laraque said.

Wednesday marked the return of Oilers goalie Ty Conklin, who stopped 27 shots in his first appearance since Feb. 13. Conklin broke his hand in a fight with Atlanta's Pasi Nurminen on Feb. 11.

STANDINGS: Canucks - 85 points, 2nd place, 4 PB, Northwest Division. Oilers - 71 points, 4th place, 18 PB, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Canucks - Markus Naslund, 32 goals and 75 points; Naslund and Bertuzzi, 43 assists; Jarkko Ruutu, 125 PIM. Oilers - Ryan Smyth, 20 goals and 51 points; Radek Dvorak, 32 assists; Jason Smith, 94 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 10): Canucks - Power play: 15.7 percent (53 for 338), 19th in NHL. Penalty killing: 86.1 percent (272 for 316), 2nd. Oilers - Power play: 12.0 percent (35 for 291), 29th. Penalty killing: 80.1 percent (249 for 311), 29th.

GOALTENDERS: Canucks - Cloutier (26-20-5, 4 SO, 2.37 GAA); Johan Hedberg (8-4-2, 3, 2.32). Oilers - Conklin (11-12-4, 1, 2.44); Jussi Markkanen (8-12-3, 2, 2.40).


LAST MEETING: Feb. 21; Oilers 4-3, OT. At Edmonton, Alberta, Eric Brewer scored at 3:56 of overtime to lift the Oilers.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Canucks - 19-10-3-4 on the road; Oilers - 17-12-4-1 at home.

Associated Press
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