Canucks try to clinch 2nd straight Northwest title vs. Wild

The Sports Network

4/4/2010 5:39:45 PM

(Sports Network) - The Vancouver Canucks can wrap up their second straight division title tonight when they host the Minnesota Wild at General Motors Place.

The Canucks enter Sunday with a nine-point lead over Colorado and Calgary atop the Northwest Division and can clinch first place with either a point tonight or any kind of loss by the Avalanche in their home game Sunday against San Jose. The Flames have already been eliminated from contention for the division crown.

Vancouver, which has won the division in two of the past three seasons, clinched a playoff spot with Friday's 5-4 win in Anaheim. Pavol Demitra scored the game-winner in the shootout to lift the Canucks into the postseason.

After each skater scored in the first round, Teemu Selanne beat Andrew Raycroft with a low forehand, but the goaltender recovered quickly and used a low glove to keep the puck out. Demitra then gave the Canucks a lead as he went to the backhand and roofed it past Curtis McElhinney. Raycroft preserved the win by using the pads to keep Bobby Ryan's shot out of the net.

Michael Grabner netted the first hat trick of his career while Jannik Hansen also scored for the Canucks, who became the fourth team in the Western Conference to clinch a playoff spot.

"We have a check mark by our name," said Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault. "That was our first objective and now we're trying to close in on first in our division."

Raycroft finished with 30 saves and earned the win while giving Roberto Luongo a rare rest. Luongo is expected to get his 65th start of the season tonight.

Tonight marks the first of two straight on home ice for the Canucks, who will finish the regular season with three out of four tests at GM Place. Vancouver has a superb 28-8-2 mark as the host this year and has won nine of its last 11 on home ice.

Just a few hours before the Canucks celebrated clinching a playoff berth on Friday night, the Wild were eliminated from postseason contention following a home loss to San Jose. Logan Couture scored the game-winner with 3:51 left in regulation, lifting the Sharks to the 3-2 victory at Xcel Energy Center.

Cal Clutterbuck and Antti Miettinen scored 1:49 apart in the second period to erase a two-goal deficit for Minnesota, but it wasn't enough to propel the Wild to victory. Niklas Backstrom stopped 25 shots in defeat.

The Wild are 13th in the Western Conference and will miss out on the playoffs for the second straight year.

"It's never fun playing these games down the stretch when you're mathematically eliminated," said Wild forward Andrew Brunette. "So we have to find a way to find a different kind of motivation."

Tonight, the Wild are opening a three-game road trip, the club's final swing of the season. Minnesota, which has an awful 12-23-3 road record this year, will close the regular season on home ice Saturday against Dallas.

Vancouver has won eight of its last 11 meetings with the Wild, but Minnesota has won the last two matchups after staking the Canucks to a 3-0 lead in the season series. Minnesota has lost three straight and four of its last five in British Columbia.