Most teams are happy to have one dependable goaltender heading into the playoffs. The Vancouver Canucks have two.
Backup goalie Cory Schneider made 43 saves, Chris Higgins scored short-handed and Vancouver extended its domination of Colorado with a 1-0 victory Wednesday night over the fading Avalanche.
It was the second straight 1-0 win for the Canucks, who beat the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night behind top goalie Roberto Luongo. Vancouver (47-21-9) won its fourth straight overall, moving the Northwest Division champions within two points of St. Louis for the top spot in the Western Conference.
Vancouver cannot finish lower than second in the West.
Schneider is 11-1-1 since Christmas, fifth in the NHL in goals-against average, second in save percentage and a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
Still, he’s not thinking about becoming the leading man ahead of Luongo in the playoffs.
”Not at all,” Schneider said. ”I think Lou and I are so beyond that, we both respect the heck out of each other and we just root each other on and whoever is in net, we have a good feeling they are going to win.”
It was Schneider’s third shutout of the season. Luongo earned his fourth Monday against Los Angeles.
”Lou’s played great the last three games, not to mention the entire year basically, so I think clearly he’s the guy that’s going to start and if it’s necessary for me to hop in at some point, so be it. I’m not worried about what’s going to happen in two weeks,” Schneider said.
Higgins’ goal came in the first period and was his third in four games against the Avalanche, who dropped to 0-6 against Vancouver this season.
Schneider was helped by his defensive-minded teammates, who kept Colorado away from the net. He came across his crease in the third to deny David Jones, who tried to convert Paul Stastny’s rebound.
The loss left the 10th-place Avalanche (40-33-6) two points out of the final playoff spot in the West, but they have only three games remaining. Every team in front of them has five games left.
”Anything can happen,” defenseman Shane O’Brien said. ”Teams that have games in hand, they could still lose. We’re going to fight to the bitter end until we’re mathematically done. But this one definitely stings a bit.”
Colorado has lost four straight overall and 15 of 17 against the Canucks.
”We certainly left everything out there on the ice surface and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t come away with at least one,” Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. ”We threw everything we could at them in the second and third period and their goalie was good.”
The Avalanche outworked the Canucks and built an 8-1 shots advantage early in the first period but gave up the short-handed goal to Higgins.
Canucks penalty-killer Sammy Pahlsson stripped the puck from Matt Hunwick in the neutral zone and forwarded it to a streaking Higgins on a breakaway.
Higgins, who scored twice Saturday in Denver, including the overtime game-winner, beat goalie Semyon Varlamov with a stick-side shot for his 16th of the season.
”Sammy just waited for me to get that half-step on the defenseman,” Higgins said. ”He could have thrown it up right away but he took the time to wait for me to get open.”
The goal followed a spirited fight between Vancouver’s David Booth and Mark Olver of Colorado.
The Canucks struggled through much of the first period and had only two shots during a two-man advantage that lasted for 1:34.
Schneider had to be sharp early to foil Olver, getting his glove on a drive from the faceoff circle.
In the second period, Schneider preserved Vancouver’s lead by denying rookie Gabriel Landeskog on his doorstep during a power play.
”Our goaltender was obviously the best player on the ice tonight,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said.
Schneider got the start while Luongo rides a streak that has featured consecutive 38-save wins, including 3-2 against Colorado on Saturday.
Booth almost made it 2-0 early in the second period on a breakaway after stealing the puck from Ryan Wilson. Varlamov outwaited him on the first shot and smothered the rebound attempt.
Varlamov avoided another potential short-handed goal in the second when he left his crease to outrace Ryan Kesler to a loose puck.
Late in the period, Manny Malhotra shot high on a 2-on-1 break during Colorado’s fourth unsuccessful power play.
The Canucks filled their 18,890-seat arena for the 400th consecutive game, including 43 playoff contests.
Only baseball’s Boston Red Sox and the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks have longer active sellout streaks among North American sports franchises.
NOTES: Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome missed his second consecutive game with a knee injury from a hit Saturday by Chuck Kobasew. The NHL fined the Avalanche forward $2,500. … Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa, who had what the club called a maintenance day on Tuesday, took the morning skate but did not play. … Schneider blanked the Avalanche 3-0 on Nov. 23 and shared a 6-0 shutout with Luongo on Dec. 6. … Canucks forward Andrew Ebbett (collarbone) and defenseman Keith Ballard (concussion) are practicing with the team, but only Ebbett appears close to returning to the lineup.