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Vrbata leading Canucks' playoff push vs. Avalanche

by Kevin Woodley

AVALANCHE (33-28-12) at CANUCKS (43-26-4)


VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Vancouver Millionaires winning the 1915 Stanley Cup by wearing vintage jerseys and maroon-and-tan equipment against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday (10 p.m. ET; ALT, SNP).

The Canucks' focus, however, is their current Stanley Cup Playoff push, and they are happy forward Radim Vrbata is a part of it.

Vancouver first targeted Jarome Iginla as a free agent last summer, but after he signed a three-year, $16-million contract with Colorado, the Canucks signed Vrbata for two years and $10 million instead.

It's worked out well for each team.

Vrbata leads Vancouver with 29 goals, 12 more than any other Canucks player, and has shown a penchant for scoring timely goals. That includes a sharp-angle game-winning power-play goal against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, and a pretty game-winner against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

"We knew he was good, but he has a touch for scoring that I haven't seen," Canucks forward Daniel Sedin said. "Not a lot of guys have it. He's a special player. He makes it look easy too. He's so calm when he gets a chance and he out-waits the goalies. He is that game-changer you need."

With Vancouver fighting to stay in second place in the Pacific Division -- they have a three-point lead on the third-place Calgary Flames and a four-point lead on the fourth-place Los Angeles Kings -- Vrbata has seven points in his past three games while also providing a veteran locker room presence.

"He's a calming influence," forward Jannik Hansen said. "He's not a guy who is going to be yelling and screaming. He leads with his play and his goal scoring, and that's what he's been doing, scoring big goals for us at some key times."

Vrbata, 33, said he chose the Canucks rather than other offers that included more term and money because it meant a chance to play with Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin. They got off to a great start when Vrbata scored in his first three games, but it has been his consistency since being moved off the top line a month ago that has helped the Canucks keep winning.

Vrbata has eight goals and eight assists since leaving the Sedins, and though some of his goals have come with the Sedins on the power play, Vrbata has produced with a variety of other linemates, which takes some pressure off the Sedins at even strength.

Vrbata also sets a good example defensively, which isn't a surprise after playing for Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett. But the almost video-game quality of some of his goals have caught his new team off guard more than once, including a couple times he was going behind the net for an apparent wraparound only to stop suddenly, change direction and stuff it back between the goalies' pad and the post.

"It's lucky if you do it once, but not if you do it more than once," Daniel Sedin said. "He's got a knack for scoring."

Vrbata is just trying to take what the goaltenders give him.

"I don't know if there is any magic to it, just go by your instincts," he said. "Sometimes you just have to get it off your stick quick. And sometimes if you have time and room to be patient then you have to be patient. Every chance is different and every goalie is different and every circumstance is different. You have to take what is there."

Vrbata also praised Iginla, who leads the Avalanche with 25 goals and is 19th all-time with 585 career goals. The 37-year-old has 1,218 points, one behind Montreal Canadiens great Jean Beliveau for 40th all-time.

"He's one of the best goal scorers ever to play," Vrbata said. "The consistency, he was always scoring goals and still is, that just shows how good a player he is and has been throughout his career."

Here are the projected lineups:


John Mitchell - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla

Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Alex Tanguay

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Dennis Everberg

Jordan Caron - Freddie Hamilton - Daniel Briere

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Jan Hejda - Zach Redmond

Brad Stuart - Nick Holden

Reto Berra

Semyon Varlamov

Scratched: Joey Hishon

Injured: Jesse Winchester (head), Jamie McGinn (back), Erik Johnson (knee), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Nathan MacKinnon (foot), Borna Rendulic (leg), Patrick Bordeleau (knee)


Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows

Shawn Matthias - Nick Bonino - Radim Vrbata

Chris Higgins - Linden Vey - Derek Dorsett

Ronalds Kenins - Bo Horvat - Jannik Hansen

Alexander EdlerChristopher Tanev

Dan Hamhuis - Yannick Weber

Luca Sbisa - Kevin Bieksa

Eddie Lack

Jacob Markstrom

Scratched: Brandon McMillan, Ryan Stanton

Injured: Ryan Miller (knee), Brad Richardson (ankle), Zack Kassian (back)

Status report: The Avalanche did not skate Thursday after a 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers the night before left them 10 points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. Coach Patrick Roy did not talk to the media but the Avalanche, who have nine games remaining, will start Berra after Varlamov gave up three goals on seven shots against the Oilers. … Burrows and Hansen are expected to play despite missing practice Wednesday, but Richardson will miss a fifth straight game despite practicing. Richardson missed almost two months healing a bone bruise and had a setback in his second game back, March 17. … The Canucks sent defenseman Adam Clendening to the American Hockey League on Wednesday.

Who's hot: O'Reilly has four goals and five assists during a five-game point streak. … Daniel Sedin has two goals and six assists during a five game points streak. Henrik Sedin has two goals and two assists during a four-game streak.

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