Blues-Canucks Preview

The Associated Press

The Vancouver Canucks are accustomed to being atop the NHL, but being chased by the St. Louis Blues is certainly a new twist.

The Canucks attempt to create some breathing room in the race for the Presidents' Trophy on Thursday night when they host the surging Blues.

Vancouver (40-16-8) appears headed for its fourth consecutive Northwest Division title, and is trying to widen its slim lead for its second consecutive Presidents' Trophy.

The Canucks, though, have plenty of competition to fend off, leading St. Louis (40-17-7) and Detroit by one point and the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers by two.

The Blues may be the biggest surprise of that group since they've reached the playoffs just once in six seasons, and that was an opening-round sweep at the hands of the Canucks in 2009.

Vancouver would like to pad its lead in the race for home-ice throughout the postseason, but the team came away frustrated with Tuesday's 2-1 shootout loss at Phoenix, capping a 3-1-2 road trip with back-to-back defeats.

"It was a frustrating way to end the trip," said Cory Schneider, who had 34 saves before stopping one of three chances in the tiebreaker. "We had a lead going into the third period and we don't close the door. We're a team that (usually) does that well."

A return home could be just what the Canucks need to regain their momentum. They're 6-0-1 in their last seven at Rogers Arena, where they'll play their next seven games.

Vancouver plays 13 of its final 18 regular-season contests at home, but lost 3-0 there to the Blues on Oct. 26 before splitting the next two meetings in St. Louis.

"I think with the schedule, this is going to be a big point in our season," Schneider said. "It could go pretty bad or it could go pretty good."

Lately, it's been going great for St. Louis, which is on the brink of its first five-game winning streak since Dec. 21-31, 2010.

The Blues' surge continued with Wednesday's 5-2 victory at Edmonton, improving to 4-0-0 on this six-game trip.

"We have four wins on the road on this trip already which is pretty good," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're in the bonus round. We play our best hockey when we are a bit scared and I think we will be a little bit for that game."

Still, St. Louis is 14-13-3 on the road.

"You have to be able to win on the road to be successful," said center Andy McDonald, who had two goals against the Oilers. "We know it is going to be tough every night and that we have to play a certain way and on this road trip especially we have stick to that style.

"It's really paid off for us. Things are going well for us."

McDonald has five goals in the past eight games, and eight points in 10 since missing 51 with a concussion. He has five goals and seven assists in his last nine meetings with the Canucks.

McDonald will likely have to contend with Roberto Luongo, who is 14-4-4 with a 2.05 goals-against average and two shutouts at home.

He made 31 saves before Daniel Sedin scored 46 seconds into overtime to clinch a 3-2 win at St. Louis on Jan. 12.

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