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Sidney Crosby's first NHL road trip in Western Canada has been a success thus far. But to come out of the stretch undefeated, the Pittsburgh Penguins will have to stop one of the league's hottest teams - and one they haven't beaten in more than seven years.
Crosby and the Penguins (14-12-2) will try to go 3-0 on their Canadian road swing on Saturday when they face the resurgent Vancouver Canucks
Crosby - the NHL's reigning scoring champ and MVP - was 13 years old when the Penguins last defeated the Canucks on Nov. 3, 2000, Vancouver has since won five straight from Pittsburgh following a 16-game stretch in which the Canucks managed one win and one tie.
The Penguins have won six of their past seven games, bookended by a pair of shootout wins including Thursday's 3-2 victory at Calgary.
Ryan Malone scored a short-handed goal midway through the third period, and rookie Kris Letang scored in the fourth round of the shootout to give the Penguins the win one night after beating the Oilers 4-2.
"Three games in four nights, coming out here playing back-to-back against two hard-nosed hockey teams, two physical games, it's a great test for our team and we should be proud of that for sure," said Crosby, who was held without a point for just the third time this season. "To come out of (Edmonton and Calgary) with four points is big for us."
The Penguins had been 5-36-1 when Crosby didn't score a point before the win against the Flames.
Crosby's first trip to the Canadian West has been a major media spectacle - with press conferences and his every move chronicled - and that's expected to continue in Vancouver, where the Canucks have gone 11-2-2 since starting 5-8-0.
Since Nov. 3, the Canucks have outscored their opponents 45-24, giving up an average of just 1.6 goals per game to move back atop the Northwest Division.
Roberto Luongo has been the a major force behind the success of the defending division champions. In his second season with Vancouver, the 2006-07 All-Star and Vezina Trophy finalist has improved his goals-against average to 2.17 this season after a 2.29 mark last season en route to a franchise-record 47 wins.
Since Nov. 2002, Luongo is 11-1-0 with a 2.05 GAA and three shutouts against the Penguins.
In the Canucks' last game, though, Luongo was given the night off in favor of backup Curtis Sanford. He has filled in nicely for Luongo in his three starts, earning a win each time, including Thursday's 5-2 victory at Nashville.
"Curtis Sanford did what a good goaltender is capable of doing," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "He kept his team in the game when they weren't there. ... Nashville had something like 12 point-blank chances in the first. Curtis enabled us to stay in the game."
The Canucks' offense again is being dominated by three players - twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Markus Naslund. The team's three leading scorers each of the past two seasons, Henrik leads the team with 28 points this season, followed by Daniel (27) and Naslund (26), who began his career with Pittsburgh before being dealt to the Canucks in 1996.