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Heading into the final weekend of the season, the Vancouver Canucks are still vying for their third division title in five years. To take another step toward that goal, they'll need to beat one of the league's doormats or get some help from a Northwest rival.
The Canucks close out 2008-09 on Saturday at the Pepsi Center against the last-place Colorado Avalanche.
First-place Vancouver (44-27-10) holds a two-point lead over Calgary, which concludes a home-and-home set with Edmonton on Saturday night. The Oilers helped out the Canucks with a 5-1 rout of the Flames on Friday.
"Those back-to-back games are never an easy task, especially against the Oilers," Vancouver's Alex Burrows told the Canucks' official Web site.
Vancouver needs just one point from this contest to win the division and clinch the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. If the Canucks lose and the Flames beat the Oilers in regulation, both teams would have 98 points but Calgary holds the tiebreaker.
With increased defensive intensity, Vancouver has managed to overcome a rough stretch. The Canucks had given up 14 goals during a three-game skid, including a 4-1 loss to Colorado (32-44-4) on Sunday, but have bounced back to surrender just one en route to winning their last two.
Roberto Luongo had 20 saves in a 1-0 win over Los Angeles on Thursday, setting a career high with his eighth shutout of the season two days after making 46 saves in a 4-1 win over Calgary.
Luongo has started 34 of the last 36 games since missing two months with a groin injury. He is 1-1-1 with a 2.27 goals-against average in three matchups with Colorado this season, struggling in Sunday's matchup.
Vancouver also had a tough time offensively in that contest. The Canucks have managed one goal in two of their last three games, getting their lone score Thursday from Ryan Kesler on a power play.
"As far as scoring chances are concerned that's a part of our game we want to improve on," Luongo said.
Colorado has allowed three goals in its last three games, going 1-0-2. The Avalanche, last in the West, lost 3-2 in a shootout with Dallas on Thursday.
This is the second time in three years Colorado will miss the postseason after making the playoffs the previous 11 seasons.
After Thursday's game, the Avalanche got even more bad news when captain Joe Sakic announced he would not play in the season finale Sunday against St. Louis. The 39-year-old center, in his 20th season, said the strength in his left leg hasn't fully returned after January surgery to repair a herniated disk.
Sakic may have played the last game of his career Nov. 28 at Phoenix, when a balky back forced him to leave the ice. He damaged his left hand in a snow blower accident at his home in December and underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk while sidelined.
Sakic is eighth on the NHL's career list in points (1,641) and 11th in assists (1,016). He isn't the only player that has been shelved by Colorado this season.
The injury-riddled Avalanche have had 11 players make their NHL debuts. Only the league-worst New York Islanders have had more players (12) play their first NHL game in 2008-09.
T.J. Galiardi, a 20-year-old winger, scored the second and third goals of his career in Sunday's matchup with Vancouver, which had won two straight in the season series after losing the first two meetings in shootouts.