Vancouver Canucks\' Shane O\'Brien, left, fights with Minnesota Wild\'s Erik Reitz in the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008 in St Paul, Minn. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Jim Mone
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Two players made triumphant returns and the Vancouver Canucks picked up two more points.
Daniel Sedin scored the winner midway through the third period in the Canucks' 3-2 victory over the Minnesota on Thursday night. Steve Bernier and former Wild winger Pavol Demitra also scored to help Vancouver beat Minnesota for the second time this season. The Canucks are 6-0-2 in their past eight games and have not lost in regulation to a division foe in six games (5-0-1).
Curtis Sanford made 28 saves for his first win since Dec. 12, 2007, a span of 13 games. It was his first start in 15 games.
Mikko Koivu scored twice for Minnesota, which lost for the second time in six games - both to Vancouver.
After a long shift in the Minnesota end, Sedin took a pass from Demitra, who was to the left of the goal. As Sedin was being checked, his snap shot from low in the left circle beat Niklas Backstrom on the glove side at 11:41.
Coach Alain Vigneault likes what he sees from the Demitra and Sedin twins on a line.
"They are coming along. They are passing a lot. I'd like to see them shoot a little bit more, but then you see how they score the third goal and you just say those are skilled players and they have to work itself out."
In his fourth game back after a 10-game absence due to a rib contusion, Demitra acknowledged being a little nervous before the game playing against Minnesota, his home for the past two seasons. He was also hungry knowing the game was for first place.
"I like to play against old teams and prove they made a mistake that they don't want you back. You want to play your best game and show what kind of player I am."
Demitra had 40 goals and 78 assists the last two seasons for the Wild.
The game increased Vancouver's lead over Minnesota in the Northwest Division to three points. At least one of the two teams has been atop the division since the start of the season. Just 10 points separated the division-winning Wild from the last-place Canucks last season.
Minnesota players are well aware of the game's significance in the standings, despite still being relatively early in the season.
"It's big," defenceman Nick Schultz said. "These are the points you need. You've got to win at home if you want to get into the playoffs."
Minnesota was 6-1-2 in its last nine home games against Vancouver.
Koivu scored for the second straight game when his slap shot from the left circle beat Sanford at 7:16 of the second period.
"It armpitted me. It's a shot you stop nine out of 10 times," Sanford said.
In Sanford's previous start in Buffalo, he looked shaky allowing five goals.
"You have to let that go. The season is too long to carry baggage," he said. "This was a start I knew I was getting for a week so it gave me time to prepare. I just wanted to come out, forget about Buffalo and have a strong game."
Bernier put a rebound behind Backstrom at the 12-minute mark, but Koivu scored short-handed 2:22 later to give the Wild a 2-1 lead.
The Minnesota centre was late coming out of the Vancouver end after falling, but a clearing attempt by Kim Johnsson found Koivu alone at centre. He raced in alone and beat Sanford on the stick side for Minnesota's first short-handed goal of the season. It was Koivu's first two-goal game since Nov. 13, 2007.
"I kind of lost my balance there and got it back together and just tried to skate up as hard as I could," Koivu said.
Demitra tied it less than two minutes later by banking a centring pass from behind the goal line off Backstrom for his third goal in three games.
"That's the toughest shot for a goalie," Demitra said. "You just put something on net hoping it will go in. ... We got lucky and scored on that one."
Backstrom, who allowed six goals in Minnesota's previous five games, finished with 24 saves.
Vancouver, which lost to the New York Islanders on Monday and won at the New York Rangers on Wednesday, will be at Pittsburgh on Saturday. In the midst of a zigzagging trip, defenceman Willie Mitchell believes the team's identity is showing.
"This team has a lot of passion and a lot of character. Tonight our character showed and we dug down, knowing it wouldn't be our best game," he said. "I'm happy for the team, happy for Curtis."
Notes: Roberto Luongo started the last 14 games in goal for Vancouver. ... Minnesota lost for the first time in nine games that Koivu scored a point. ... The win was Vigneault's 100th as Vancouver's coach (100-65-19). ... Minnesota reassigned goalie Nolan Schaefer to Houston of the AHL. He was recalled on an emergency basis after Josh Harding missed Tuesday's pre-game skate because of a lower-body injury.