Canucks are No. 1 in the NHL after beating Devils

Saturday, 02.25.2012 / 10:00 AM / Countdown to the Playoffs

By John Kreiser - Columnist

Elite teams win under all kinds of conditions, and the Vancouver Canucks certainly feel they're an elite team.

The Canucks ended Detroit's 23-game home winning streak on Thursday with an emotional 4-3 shootout win. But rather than celebrate, the Canucks had to hop a plane and fly to Newark, N.J., to face the Devils, who were well-rested after two days off.

But despite getting into New Jersey at 3 a.m., the Canucks found a way to win -- they beat the Devils 2-1 to hop over the Red Wings and into first place in the overall NHL standings.

The hero was backup goaltender Cory Schneider, who made 30 saves one night after starter Roberto Luongo beat the Wings in Detroit.

With a tired team in front of him -- it was Vancouver's third game in four nights on the road, Schneider knew he had to step up with a big effort.

"That's the reason you have two goalies and two goalies you can trust," Schneider said. "For me, I know the rest of team is tired, but I'm fresh. I might have that extra jump in a game like this for our guys so it's a situation I take a lot of pride in and want to be the difference-maker."

With 11 games on Saturday's schedule, here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after Friday's games:

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

New York Rangers (82 points after Friday's 4-3 shootout loss at New York Islanders) got one point after trailing 2-0 and 3-1, but lost to the Isles for the fifth straight time in games that have gone past 60 minutes. The Rangers are back home on Saturday to host Buffalo.

Boston (75 points after Friday's 2-1 shootout loss at Buffalo) scratched out a point when Zdeno Chara tied the game early in the third period, but Bruins weren't able to get the extra point in the shootout. Boston is now 8-9-2 in its last 19 games and has gone five weeks without back-to-back wins. The B's face a key division game Saturday when they visit Ottawa.

Winnipeg (67 points) enters Saturday's game against St. Louis first in the Southeast Division after beating Tampa Bay 4-3 on Thursday.

The next five:

New Jersey (74 points after Friday's 2-1 loss to Vancouver) began a stretch of three games in four days with a loss to the new leader in the overall NHL standings. The bigger news was who's likely to be in the lineup Sunday against Tampa Bay: During the game, the Devils acquired veteran defenseman Marek Zidlicky from Minnesota for three players and two draft picks.

Philadelphia (73 points) had Friday off. The Flyers visit Edmonton on Saturday.

Pittsburgh (73 points) hosts Tampa Bay at the Consol Energy Center on Saturday afternoon following a three-day break. It's a matchup of the NHL's co-leaders in scoring -- Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins and Steven Stamkos of the Lightning both have 73 points.

Ottawa (72 points) had a second day off before Boston comes to Scotiabank Place on Saturday.

Florida (66 points) had the day off before visiting Carolina on Saturday.

On the outside looking in:

Washington (65 points after Friday's 4-1 win against Montreal) actually allowed a goal to the Canadiens for the first time in a five-game span -- but not much else. Alex Ovechkin, back after missing a game with a lower-body injury, had a second-period goal as the Caps moved within a point of eighth place as they head to Toronto.

Toronto (65 points) had the day off before hosting Washington on Saturday. The Leafs have won just once in their last eight games.

Buffalo (61 points after Friday's 2-1 shootout win against Boston) got the extra point it desperately needed when Derek Roy scored in the fourth round of the shootout -- helping to atone for his giveaway, which allowed the Bruins to tie the game early in the third period. Buffalo didn't get much time to enjoy the win -- the Sabres flew to New York for a game against the Rangers on Saturday.

Tampa Bay (60 points) faces a tough weekend on the road, with visits to Pittsburgh on Saturday and New Jersey on Sunday.

New York Islanders (60 points after Friday's 4-3 shootout win against the Rangers) pumped some life into their playoff hopes thanks to Matt Moulson's shootout winner and Evgeni Nabokov's goaltending. Nabokov returned after missing four games with the flu and made 33 saves through 65 minutes, then stopped three of four shots in the tiebreaker.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (86 points after Friday's 2-1 win at New Jersey) got goals from Aaron Rome and Mason Raymond to move a point ahead of Detroit in the overall standings. Each team has 20 games remaining.

Detroit (85 points) dropped to second in the West on its day off. The Wings will try to start a new home winning streak against Colorado on Saturday.

San Jose (71 points) had Friday off before a grinding finish to a nine-game trip -- the Sharks are at Nashville on Saturday and Minnesota on Sunday.

The next five:

St. Louis (81 points)
continues its road trip with a stop in Winnipeg on Saturday afternoon.

Nashville (77 points) had the day off on Friday before San Jose comes to Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night.

Chicago (73 points) is spending the weekend in Southern California -- the Hawks visit Los Angeles on Saturday and Anaheim on Sunday.

Phoenix (71 points) goes for a sweep of its two-game swing through Alberta when it visits Edmonton on Saturday afternoon. The Coyotes have won their last two games in shootouts after overcoming multiple-goal deficits and are 9-0-1 this month,

Dallas (68 points after Friday's 4-1 win against Minnesota) took clear possession of the final playoff spot in the West as Tom Wandell scored twice. It was the 1,500th victory in the history of the franchise that began as the Minnesota North Stars in 1967 -- and the 16th in a row in Dallas against the team that ultimately replaced them.

On the outside looking in:

Calgary (66 points)
faces a big test on Saturday when Philadelphia makes a rare trip to Scotiabank Saddledome. The Flames had to settle for one point in a shootout loss on Thursday after Phoenix rallied from a 2-0 deficit.

Los Angeles (66 points) should have its newest acquisition, center Jeff Carter, in the lineup when Chicago comes to the Staples Center on Saturday night. The Kings hope Carter will jump-start the NHL's worst offense -- L.A. averages just 2.05 goals per game.

Colorado (66 points after a 5-0 win at Columbus on Friday) did a good job not looking past the last-place Blue Jackets to Saturday's game at Detroit. The Avs got 28 saves by Semyon Varlamov and two goals by David Jones to win easily at Columbus.

Minnesota (63 points after Friday's 4-1 loss at Dallas) didn't generate a lot of offense in its 16th straight loss at Dallas. Devin Setoguchi's 5-on-3 goal in the third period avoided a shutout. The Wild should have some reinforcements for Sunday's home game against San Jose -- they traded defenseman Marek Zidlicky to New Jersey on Friday for defenseman Kurtis Foster and forwards Nick Palmieri and Stephane Veilleux.

Anaheim (62 points) was glad to be home Friday after a successful eight-game trip. The Ducks earned 11 of a possible 16 points and will have another day off before Chicago comes to the Honda Center on Sunday.