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Vancouver Canucks centre Ryan Kesler (17) sends the puck past Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (32) for a goal during first period NHL hockey action in Vancouver Monday, March 14, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe (GEOFF HOWE)
Vancouver Canucks centre Ryan Kesler (17) sends the puck past Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (32) for a goal during first period NHL hockey action in Vancouver Monday, March 14, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe (GEOFF HOWE)

Canucks crack the 100-point plateau Add to ...

The Vancouver Canucks are such a fantastic show these days, even Prime Minister Stephen Harper stopped by for a first-hand look Monday.

Either that, or an election is coming.

The prime minister picked a good night, though.

The Canucks scored three first-period goals in juggernaut fashion, and held on for a 4-2 victory over the visiting Minnesota Wild. It was their sixth consecutive win, and it made them the first NHL team to eclipse the 100-point plateau.

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Vancouver now has 101 points, 10 better than the second-place Philadelphia Flyers. In election terms, that's a landslide.

Harper looked impressed as he watched alongside Canucks legend Trevor Linden. The two shared a bag of popcorn, and one Canuck fan even reached over the PM to ask for Linden's autograph.

That ignited a string of visitors to their aisle seats in Section 106 of Rogers Arena, and Harper posed for photographs through both intermissions.

Though the first fan's presence caught many by surprise, it was old news for Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault. The coach, who was raised across the Ottawa River from 24 Sussex Drive, has a friend among Harper's security detail.

"I knew it before anybody," Vigneault said of the visit.

Perhaps Vigneault's friend can shield defenceman Sami Salo until the playoffs start. The oft-injured defenceman left the game in the first period after taking a Kyle Brodziak slap shot off the left forearm and elbow.

Vigneault said that Salo did not break anything, but that the area felt numb. Salo will be re-evaluated Tuesday, and Vancouver may need to recall a defenceman by Wednesday for a home game against the Colorado Avalanche. The team is not carrying an extra rearguard on the NHL roster.

Ryan Kesler scored twice, including one into an empty net, and has 36 goals on the season. Daniel Sedin notched his team-leading 38th goal of the year, and leads Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning by four points in the NHL scoring race, while Manny Malhotra and Mikael Samuelsson had two assists apiece.

On most nights, a three-goal lead would mean game over against the Canucks, but the Wild got within a goal in the third period, and might have pulled even had it converted on its six power-play attempts.

"We stopped playing a little bit when we were up 3-0," captain Henrik Sedin said.

Vancouver scored on both its man-advantage situations, but the visitors squandered two five-on-three advantages in the middle frame - one lasted six seconds - and two traditional power plays in the final six minutes.

Both Canucks man-advantage goals were scored with Wild defenceman Clayton Stoner in the penalty box. The Port McNeill, B.C. native has become a regular this season at age 26, and was returning from a three-game absence because of a lower-body injury.

Wild captain Mikko Koivu was also returning from injury, amid questions that his broken index finger would hamper his ability to shoot the puck. Koivu, however, had a goal and an assist. So did noted Canuck-killer Andrew Brunette.

"We knew they were going to have a push," said Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, who made 33 saves. "They're obviously in desperation mode."

Minnesota remains in 11th place of the Western Conference, four points out of a playoff spot.



Canucks

They scored three times in the opening 15 minutes, and rode momentum thanks to a soft goal just two minutes into the contest. Raffi Torres put a weak wrist shot on Niklas Backstrom and beat the Wild goalie. Later in the first, Daniel Sedin notched his 38th goal on the power play, and Ryan Kesler followed with his 35th, which also came with the man-advantage. Both times, Port McNeill, B.C., native Clayton Stoner was in the penalty box. Not a good homecoming for a defenceman who has become a regular for the Wild this season. Roberto Luongo made 19 saves in the Canucks net, while the Sedins extended their points-scoring streaks to six games. Kesler scored into the empty net for his third goal in the past two games.

Wild

The Wild are hanging on the outskirts of the Western Conference playoff race, and Monday's result will not help. Minnesota began the evening in 11th place, four points back of the eighth-place Calgary Flames, who hold down the final postseason berth. Minnesota lost ground to the Chicago Blackhawks, who leapt from seventh- to fourth-place with a 6-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks. But there is hope, mostly in the form of first-line centre Mikko Koivu (broken finger), who returned from an 11-game absence Monday. Koivu was expected to be hampered by his still-healing digit, but had two points, including a goal five minutes into the third period that cut Vancouver's lead to 3-2. Andrew Brunette scored Minnesota's first goal and also had a two-point game.

Roster Watch

Oft-injured defenceman Sami Salo, playing his 16th game after returning from off-season heel surgery, left the game late in the first period. He took a Kyle Brodziak slap shot off the left elbow and was in noticeable pain upon skating to the bench. Salo did not return. The Canucks are not carrying any spare defencemen, although Kevin Bieksa (foot fracture) might be able to return later this week. If Salo is seriously injured, Vancouver will need a blueliner for Wednesday's home game against the Colorado Avalanche. Winger Tanner Glass (upper body) missed a second consecutive game.

Haaaa-rold!

Harold Snepsts, the industrious defenceman from Vancouver's era of hideous yellow sweaters, was honoured in a pregame ceremony celebrating the team's 40th anniversary season. Snepsts, who played 12 of his 17 NHL seasons in Vancouver, became the fourth member of the club's new Ring of Honour. He joined inaugural captain Orland Kurtenbach, goalie Kirk McLean, and forward Thomas Gradin. Snepsts (sans mustache) works as a Canucks scout, and elongated chants of his first name, a tradition at the old Pacific Coliseum, were heard upon his introduction.

 

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