The Vancouver Canucks seem well on their way to a third straight Northwest Division title and hold the NHL's best record for the first time since January 2004.
No matter their recent success, they still haven't seemed to solve the Chicago Blackhawks.
The teams continue their rivalry when Chicago continues a six-game road trip Friday night against surging Vancouver in their final meeting of the regular season.
The Canucks (33-10-9) extended their lead atop the NHL with a 6-0 victory Wednesday against Phoenix. Vancouver has won four consecutive games and earned a point in seven straight and 29 of 32, going 23-3-6.
Roberto Luongo was relatively untested in recording his third shutout of the season with 23 saves. Since his last regulation loss, Luongo is 13-0-5 with a 1.83 goals-against average.
Ryan Kesler's two goals gave him his first career 30-goal season and Cody Hodgson scored his first career goal for the Canucks, who are seven points ahead of second-place Detroit in the Western Conference.
"We've been on a good roll the last couple of months," Luongo said. "When you have the confidence that you can play hard and play well things fall into place."
However, Chicago seems to have Luongo's number, beating him twice in three meetings this season.
Including his 3-0 shutout Dec. 3, Luongo is 1-2-1 with a 3.32 GAA in his last four against the Blackhawks. Chicago has knocked Vancouver out of the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, and if the season were to end now, the teams would meet in the first round.
The Blackhawks (27-20-4) hope to continue improving their position in the conference after beating Columbus 7-4 on Tuesday in the opener of their trip. Captain Jonathan Toews scored a short-handed goal and added two assists as Chicago overcame a 3-2 second-period deficit.
Coach Joel Quenneville called a timeout after the Blue Jackets took the lead, and the Blackhawks responded with four straight goals.
"They scored two quick goals there and we lost all the momentum," Quenneville said. "Our last couple of second periods haven't been very good. We seem to lose the game at that stage. We got back in it and Johnny obviously scored a huge goal at the end of the period to extend it a little bit."
Marty Turco made 29 saves in his first start in four games. Turco's nod in net was somewhat surprising following the All-Star break as Corey Crawford has been the No. 1 goaltender most of the season, but he made a key save on Jakub Voracek's breakaway attempt to keep the game tied at 3-all in the second period.
"It was good to see Marty shut the door and really give us the opportunity to win," defenseman Brent Seabrook said.
Turco made 36 saves in a 2-1 shootout win against the Canucks on Oct. 20, and Crawford stopped 27 shots in a 7-1 victory Nov. 20.
Patrick Kane scored his first goal in seven games Tuesday, and he had a goal and two assists in the November victory in Vancouver. Kane has 28 points in 27 games - including playoffs - against the Canucks, netting his only career hat trick in Game 6 of the 2009 conference semifinals.
The Associated Press News Service
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