Avalanche vs. Canucks Preview

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Vancouver, British Columbia (AP) - The Northwest Division race ended with little excitement.

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This wasn't too surprising considering the Vancouver Canucks have been in first place for the last three months.

Having clinched the division on a day off, the surging Canucks turn their focus to the top seed in the Western Conference on Wednesday night when they host a Colorado Avalanche team trying to avoid losing its ninth in a row.

According to NHL odds and oddsmakers from online sports book SBGGLOBAL.com have made the Canucks -335 money line favorites for Wednesday's game against the Avalanche. Current NHL Public Betting Information shows that 89% of more than 3,550 bets for this game have been placed on the Canucks -335.

Vancouver (46-16-9) clinched its third straight Northwest title on Tuesday night when Calgary lost to Phoenix. This division crown seemed rather predictable, as the Canucks owned a 15-point lead at the All-Star break and haven't been in second place since Dec. 19.

With first place secured, Vancouver now looks to increase its 11-point lead over Central Division-leading Detroit atop the West.

The Canucks seem to have a good chance of accomplishing that, considering they've earned at least one point in 10 straight games (8-0-2) against Colorado.

Vancouver outscored the Avalanche 13-7 in winning the first four meetings of this season's series before falling 4-3 in overtime in Colorado on Jan. 18.

The Avalanche (26-34-8) have only won twice since then, going 2-18-2.

The Canucks went through a bit of a difficult stretch by their own standards from Feb. 7-March 3, alternating wins and losses for 12 straight games, but have since bounced back to reel off six consecutive victories.

With Monday's 4-2 win over Minnesota, Vancouver surpassed the 100-point mark for the sixth time in eight seasons. The Canucks finished with 103 points last season and the franchise record is 105, set in 2006-07.

Against the Wild, Raffi Torres, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler scored in the first period and the defense killed two penalties late in the third with the Canucks protecting a one-goal lead. Vancouver sealed the victory with Kesler's empty-net goal, his 36th of the season.

"No matter what we can find ways to win," said center Manny Malhotra, who had two assists. "We've been down goals recently and have come back. We've been up goals and kept the lead and fought off surges like we did (Monday)."

The victory may have come at a price, though, as Sami Salo left the game after being hit in the left arm by a slap shot late in the first period.

Salo, Vancouver's top defenseman last season, had three goals and six points in his first 15 games back after missing the first four months of the season recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon.

Even if Salo is to miss some time, the defense should be in good shape with Roberto Luongo between the pipes.

Luongo finished with 32 saves Monday, and he's allowed three goals or fewer in 19 straight starts since the last meeting with Colorado.

The Avalanche have lost 25 in a row when totaling three goals or less and have not scored more than two in six straight.

Colorado is coming off Saturday's 4-2 loss to Nashville, its eighth straight defeat and 18th in 19 games.

"There were a couple of individual mistakes that cost us that we are going to continue to correct and work on," coach Joe Sacco said. "That has kind of been a little bit of the story lately here. Some mistakes that end up in the back of our net."

The Avalanche were without Paul Stastny (back) and Milan Hejduk (shoulder) after both were injured in Friday's 6-2 loss to Anaheim. The severity of the injury for Stastny, the team leader with 53 points, is uncertain, while Hejduk, third on Colorado with 48 points, is expected to miss a week.

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