PIC OF THE GAME
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -This time it was Roberto Luongo's turn to thank his Vancouver Canucks teammates.
After relying almost exclusively on Luongo to win their last game, the Canucks only needed 20 saves from the star goalie, and a second-period power-play goal from Ryan Kesler, to beat the Los Angeles Kings 1-0 on Thursday night.
Against the 13th-place Kings, Luongo faced one fewer shot all game than he did in the first period in a 46-save, 4-1 win over Calgary on Tuesday night.
"Defensively, we really executed well and didn t give them much room," said Luongo, who set a career high and moved into a tie for second in the NHL with his eighth shutout of the season. "As far as scoring chances are concerned that's a part of our game we want to improve on and we did that tonight."
The Canucks also moved two points ahead of idle Calgary atop the Northwest Division, but the Flames still control their own destiny in the race for the third seed in the Western Conference, and can clinch both by matching Vancouver over their final two games.
The Canucks will close the regular season in Colorado on Saturday, while the Flames, who have the tiebreaker with more wins, will finish with a home-and-home series against Edmonton on Friday and Saturday.
"There's a little bit of pressure on them," said Kesler, who scored the only goal after being honored as the Canucks' MVP in a ceremony before the game.
With Anze Kopitar in the penalty box for holding Mats Sundin behind the net, Kesler banged in a rebound of a hard shot from Sundin at the top of the faceoff circle. It was Kesler's career-best 26th goal and 59th point of the season.
"You got to give them a show after they pick you MVP," Kesler joked of the award decided in fan voting award. "It's a great honor for the fans to think of me as an MVP."
It's an award Luongo has won in the past, one he deserved when the Canucks were outshot 47-25 in Tuesday's game. But he didn't need to carry the team Thursday, as the Canucks lived up to a pledge to tighten up defensively after also giving up 14 goals in their previous three games - all losses. They only allowed had 13 shots through two periods - four fewer than Luongo saw the first 10 minutes against Calgary.
"There's still a ways to go but all in all I thought we played good defensively and Lou had another great game for us and got the shutout," Kesler said.
Strangely enough, Luongo said he preferred the game against Calgary.
"It's a much tougher night tonight I think than the last one, just because there's not that much action so you have to be sharper mentally," he said.
Earned his 8th shutout of the year with a 20-save performance in a win over the Kings.
The MVP could've been first star - and not just because he scored the only goal. He was a force yet again.
Played 20 tough minutes and came out unscathed against a a determined Canucks forward corps.
Luongo did get an early break when Kings captain Dustin Brown shot wide of an empty net on a rebound just 3 minutes into the game. Luongo made his best save with 6:39 left, throwing out his glove to get a piece of Alexander Frolov's hard shot from the high slot off the rush to preserve the 1-0 lead.
"I just missed it," Brown said of the early chance. "They played a pretty good game and Luongo made some huge saves in the third that kept them in it."
Luongo also got his stick on Kopitar's shot from the slot with the Kings totally controlling play shortly after Kesler's goal in the second period, a long shift in the Vancouver end that led to a Canucks timeout. Kopitar had another good chance on a rebound 8:35 into the third period, but his backhander went through Luongo's legs and well wide of the goal.
At the other end, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick faced more - and harder - chances among his 27 saves. He shot out the left pad to deny Rick Rypien on a breakaway at the end of a power play, and sprawled to rob Kyle Wellwood in tight.
"We competed, we battled," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "At the end, Vancouver dug in pretty good there. They know how to shut things down."
The Canucks, 12-1-1 since Feb. 1 at home, also moved within two points of fourth-place Chicago. But the Blackhawks only need one point in their final two games - a home-and-home series with Detroit - to clinch home-ice advantage in the first round against either Vancouver or Calgary.
“It’s a great honour, it means a lot to me and I wouldn’t be picked that if it weren’t for my teammates. It's cliché, but it’s true. They’ve been there throughout everything. It’s a great honour for the fans to think of me like that and I’ll never forget. - Kesler on his team MVP award handed out prior to Thursday's puck drop.
“We wanted to make sure we were playing well going into the playoffs and you never know, we could get the Northwest, so we put a little bit of pressure on [Calgary] tomorrow. Those back-to-back games are never an easy task, especially against the Oilers. Hopefully they’ll drop one and we can take on Colorado.” - Alex Burrows on finishing strong and a chance at a banner.
“There are a lot of young guys that have jobs on the line for next year, they want to work hard. Those two first lines aren’t too shabby. Kopitar and Williams and Brown - those are top six forwards on any team." - Burrows on the challenge the Kings present.
Notes: Luongo is fourth among active goalies with 46 shutouts. ... The Kings went 1-2-0 on their trip, eliminating Edmonton from the playoffs with the win Tuesday. ... In addition to Kesler being selected the team MVP in fan voting, RW Alex Burrows was honored as the most exciting player, Willie Mitchell as the top defenseman, and RW Steve Bernier as the unsung hero. The award for top scorer has to wait until the final game because identical twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin each have 81 points.