Colorado Avalance Milan Hejduk (23) fires the puck past Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo to give Colorado a 1-0 lead in the first period of NHL action in Vancouver Thursday.(CP PHOTO/Chuck Stoody)
Not only did the loss keep Vancouver from winning its second division title in three seasons, the Canucks turned in a lazy effort in their final home game of the season. The defeat hurt even more because it came on fan appreciation night where the players give their jerseys to select fans after the game.
"It was very disappointing tonight," said centre Brendan Morrison. "It's a game where these guys are fighting for their lives, we're fighting for the division title.
"It's frustrating. We didn't win many one-on-one battles. "
Canuck goaltender Roberto Luongo, who made 27 saves, called it "a disappointing effort" by the Canucks.
"We were pretty bad out there," he said. "I don't think we're very happy with the way we played."
Sami Salo had the lone goal for the Canucks (48-25-7).
Even with the victory the Avs had to wait for San Jose to defeat Calgary 4-3 to know if they lived to fight another day.
"We are still alive," said Hejduk, who has 28 career goals against Vancouver, more than any other Avalanche player. "This was a big game for us, another big two points.
"We are putting some pressure on Calgary and we'll see how they respond."
The Avs, who now trail Calgary by three points in the race for the final Western Conference playoff spot, still must win their remaining two games. Calgary needs just two points in their final two games to make the playoffs.
It's possible the teams' fates could be decided when they face each other in the final game of the season Sunday in Denver.
Canuck coach Alain Vigneault didn't look happy after his team lost for the second time in three games.
"They were a really desperate and hungry team tonight," said Vigneault. "They went out on the ice and outplayed us in all the areas. "
The Canucks need just one win to claim the Northwest title and home-ice advantage in the playoffs. But they are now looking over their shoulders after Minnesota used a 3-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers to inch to within one point of Vancouver.
The Canucks have two games left on the schedule, against San Jose Saturday and Phoenix Sunday.
The Wild have just one game remaining, against St. Louis.
"I know we can play a lot better than we have been right now," said Vigneault. "I expect us to play better.
"If we are going to finish we have to win a game and play better. If were going to do anything in the playoffs, we will have to play better."
The Avs, who outshot Vancouver 30-18, are 14-1-2 in their last 17 games and 43-30-7 overall.
"We are one of the hottest teams in the league," said Hejduk. "It we make it (the playoffs) anything can happen.
"We are on a wave right now. We are a really loose team right now and things have started going really well."
Morrison denied the Canucks are feeling any pressure as they head out on the road.
"We've played well on the road all year," he said. "We just have to go out and win a game.
"We have to go into San Jose and play a good game there. We'll worry about Phoenix when we have to face them."
Hejduk broke a 1-1 tie at 6:57 of the final period when he took a pass from rookie Paul Stastny in the slot and beat Luongo with a hard shot to the stick side.
Stastny picked up his third assist of the game when Hejduk made it 3-1 during a scramble in front of the Canuck net at 10:54.
The Avs took a 1-0 lead just 25 seconds into the game while many in the sellout crowd of 18,630 were still looking for their seats. Hejduk picked up a loose puck, stickhandled between defencemen Willie Mitchell and Kevin Bieksa, then beat Luongo with a hard shot to the stick side.
During the game the Canucks announced their team awards. Not surprisingly, fans voted Luongo as both the most valuable and exciting player. Bieksa was chosen best defenceman and unsung hero.
Canuck captain Markus Naslund thought he had scored a goal in the first period but it was disallowed when the video replay judge ruled he had kicked it in.