CANUCKS (50-21-9) at FLAMES (35-29-16)
LAST 10: Flames 2-4-4; Canucks 8-1-1
Season Series: It's the finale between the Northwest Division rivals, with the Canucks holding a slight edge in the season series after a 3-2 overtime win March 31 that ended the Flames' playoff hopes. Vancouver won the first two meetings in early November and early December by a combined 10-2 score, and the Flames won the next two, 3-1 two days before Christmas and 3-2 in a shootout on Feb. 11.
Big Story: Despite a seven-game winning streak, goaltending is once again in the spotlight in Vancouver. Rogers Arena fans cheered the removal of starter Roberto Luongo on Tuesday against Anaheim after he allowed four goals on 15 shots. Sizzling backup Cory Schneider took over and only needed 10 saves - just two in the third period and overtime, and one of two in the shootout - to backstop a dramatic comeback victory. Luongo accepted the blame even while all around him pointed out the numerous defensive breakdowns that led to the goals. Schneider is back in goal against the Flames, but before any antsy Canucks fans read too much into that, it was scheduled long ago as part of a back-and-forth late-season rotation.
Canucks: Vancouver's season-high seven-game winning streak was built on the back of solid defensive play and included consecutive 1-0 shutout wins. But there was no shortage of wide-open chances early against Anaheim on Tuesday night, allowing the Ducks to go up 4-2 early in the second period and ending goalie Luongo's night early. The Canucks clamped down after that, giving up just two shots in the third period and overtime before winning in a shootout. With the top seed in the Western Conference still in their control - and a shot at a second-straight Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top regular-season team not an impossibility -- the early wakeup call should focus them defensively in Calgary.
"It's not the ultimate prize," Alexandre Burrows said of first place, "But if we are able to have home ice throughout the playoffs, it's a huge advantage."
Flames: Vancouver put the final nail in Calgary's playoff coffin Saturday with a 3-2 comeback win in overtime. But even with four days off to recover from the loss and get over the disappointment of a third-straight season without making the playoffs, it's hard to know whether the Flames will be fired up to avenge the loss.
With the autopsy still underway on season that ended early because of an ill-timed and ongoing 1-4-4 funk, it didn't sound like a group looking forward.
"You feel like you failed," coach Brent Sutter told reporters in Calgary. "What hurts, what kills me, is seeing the guys let each other down, let themselves down. They're like you're own kids and you want them to succeed and want to see them do well. … You feel bad for them. You feel bad for the organization. You feel bad for the fans. You feel like you let everybody down. That's a tough one."
Who's Hot: With top-line left wing Daniel Sedin set to miss his eighth straight game with a concussion, his unlikely replacement, Maxim Lapierre, is on a tear since taking his spot three games ago. Playing with Henrik Sedin and Burrows, Lapierre, usually an agitating fourth-line center, had a goal and two assists in his first game on the top line, and a goal in each of the next two.
Injury Report: The Flames are missing defenders Derek Smith (upper body) andTJ Brodie (upper body) and center Mikael Backlund (shoulder). … Vancouver will be without Daniel Sedin (concussion) but top-four defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who missed four games to rest an undisclosed ailment, made the trip after practicing Wednesday and is expected to play. Defensemen Aaron Rome (knee) and Keith Ballard (concussion) are also close to returning, but blueliner Chris Tanev is questionable after missing practice Wednesday for what was called a maintenance day by the team. Forward Zack Kassian is out and still being evaluated after leaving Tuesday's game in the second period with an upper body injury that appeared to be to his right side.
Stat Pack: Canucks forward Chris Higgins has five goals in his last six games despite playing on a shutdown third line that has been going up against the opposition's best forwards on a regular basis. … Vancouver's power play is just 2-for-29 after an 0-for-5 outing against Anaheim, and has dropped to fourth in the NHL at just 20 percent, more than five points below its midseason peak atop the League. … Calgary captain Jarome Iginla has one goal and three assists in nine games and is a big reason the Flames have scored just 14 goals in a 1-4-4 slump.
Puck Drop: Canucks captain Henrik Sedin has seven assists in the last three games despite playing without twin brother Daniel. That matches Henrik's total from the previous 16 games combined. He also started the plays that led to two other goals (without getting an assist on either) while finishing plus-4 in Tuesday's shootout win against Anaheim.
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