Flames-Canucks Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 31, 2012
Superb goaltending is one reason the Vancouver Canucks are already Northwest Division champions for a fourth consecutive season, and are attempting a run at another Presidents' Trophy. It looks like the Calgary Flames may miss out on the playoffs for a third straight season. The Canucks look to extend their longest winning streak of 2011-12 and officially eliminate the Flames from the playoff race Saturday night at Rogers Arena. Stellar work from netminders Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo has helped Vancouver (48-21-9) win five in a row to pull within a point of St. Louis for first place in the Western Conference. The Canucks are two points behind the New York Rangers in the race for the Presidents' Trophy, which they won for the first time last season. All three clubs have four games left in the regular season, and Schneider and Luongo may provide the difference in the race. Schneider is 12-2-1 with a 1.79 goals-against average and one shutout in his last 15 games, including a 1.00 GAA while winning three in a row. He made 28 saves in Friday's 5-2 victory over Dallas. Luongo is 2-0-1 over his past three starts, including a 1-0 victory over Los Angeles on Monday, his most recent outing. Schneider has started the last two games - made necessary after Luongo woke up with a stiff neck Friday and couldn't get loose during warmups. "You never want to be forced into that situation," Schneider said. "You hope everything is fine with Lou, but that's my job." Vancouver now will try to win six straight for the first time since a seven-game run March 5-16, 2011. All-Star center Henrik Sedin had three assists Friday for the Canucks, giving him 10 over his last nine contests and six during the five-game winning streak. Twin brother Daniel Sedin, the team leader with 30 goals, is expected to miss a sixth consecutive game with a concussion. Chris Higgins has been filling the scoring void effectively, netting four goals in four games to match the total from his previous 33 games. Higgins has two goals and two assists in his last three meetings with Calgary. The Flames (35-29-15) are on the brink of elimination due in part to a 1-4-3 slump, which has left them five points behind Dallas and Phoenix for the final two playoff spots with three games left in the regular season. Calgary has been held to two goals or fewer in each loss during that woeful stretch, including Friday's 4-1 home defeat to Colorado. "In the last eight games, that's probably been the worst defensive games I've seen this team play all year and that's why our offense has struggled," coach Brent Sutter said. "You can't score seven goals in seven games when you're having 20-some goals scored against you. It doesn't work." Jarome Iginla ended a seven-game goal drought when he tallied against the Avalanche. However, the captain has just one goal in his last 13 meetings with Vancouver - none in the past four. These teams will conclude their season series Thursday in Calgary in the penultimate game of the regular season for both clubs.
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