Canucks vs. Avalanche Preview

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DENVER, CO (AP) - No team has been able to separate itself from the pack in the Northwest Division thus far, but the Vancouver Canucks appear very capable of doing that.

The Canucks look to win their fifth straight and extend their lead in the Northwest on Sunday night when they visit their closest pursuers - the Colorado Avalanche.

No team was sadder to see December end than the Canucks, who opened a six-point lead in the division with an 11-1-2 record during the month. The team's stellar play actually extends back into the previous month, as it started its current 13-1-2 run with a 4-2 victory over Colorado on Nov. 24.

According to NHL odds and oddsmakers from online sports book SBGGlobal.com have made the Canucks -117 money line favorites for Sunday's game against the Avalanche. Current NHL Public Betting Information shows that 62% of more than 57 bets for this game have been placed on the Canucks -117.

Vancouver (23-8-5) capped a brilliant month with a 4-1 victory at Dallas on Friday night, getting power-play goals from Daniel and Henrik Sedin and 44 saves from backup Cory Schneider.

``Dallas was probably the better team overall for 60 minutes, but sometimes all you need is a good power play and a good goalie,'' Daniel Sedin said.

Schneider continued his quietly outstanding season, improving to 6-0-2 with a 2.38 goals-against average. He was backed up by Roberto Luongo, who rejoined his teammates Friday. Luongo had been with his wife, Gina, who gave birth to a boy, the couple's second child, on Wednesday in Florida.

"Some nights you need your goaltender to steal you a win, and that's what we got tonight, an outstanding performance from Schneids, who made the right saves at the right time,'' coach Alain Vigneault said. ``We needed him big tonight, and he came up big for us.''

Kevin Bieksa also had a power-play goal for the Canucks, whose top-ranked unit went 3 for 5 with the man advantage, and is 17 for 67 (25.3 percent) in the past 14 games.

Henrik Sedin's goal and assist gave him three and nine during a five-game point streak, while Daniel has four goals and five assists in his last five contests. Henrik leads the league with 40 assists.

Ryan Kesler's eight-game point streak was snapped Friday, but he could be poised to start a new run. Kesler has been instrumental in helping the Canucks win the first three meetings this season against the Avalanche, scoring one goal in each game.

Vancouver is 7-0-1 in the past eight matchups, outscoring Colorado 17-7 while posting three straight wins at the Pepsi Center.

The Avalanche (20-13-5) opened December with a 6-1-2 surge, but closed the month with a 1-3-1 record that included a 3-2 loss in Calgary on New Year's Eve. Daniel Winnik and Tomas Fleischmann scored in the third, but Colorado couldn't complete the comeback after allowing three second-period goals.

"We were pretty resilient there in the third period, but it wasn't enough,'' coach Joe Sacco said. ``It was a little bit too little, too late. At the end of the day it just wasn't good enough.''

Defense has been the biggest problem recently for Sacco's team which has allowed three goals or more in eight of the last nine games. Some of that blame rests with goaltender Craig Anderson, 1-3-0 with a 4.09 GAA in his last four starts. He is 2-8-1 with a 3.50 GAA against Vancouver.

Colorado will try to avoid its first four-game home losing streak since an 0-5-2 skid from March 19-April 12, 2009.

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