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Saturday, April 19

Updated: April 19, 11:27 AM ET

Canucks seek win; Blues seek health

By Jim Wilkie
Special to

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Vancouver Canucks are still alive, thanks to a bug.

Facing elimination in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinals, the Canucks overpowered the flu-riddled St. Louis Blues, 5-3, at GM Place to force Game 6 on Sunday night at St. Louis.

A virus making its way through the St. Louis dressing room knocked defensemen Alexander Khavanov and Christian Laflamme, briefly, out of the game by the second period and sapped the energy from a number of other Blues.

"We only had four defensemen. I mean that hurt," Blues goalie Chris Osgood said after stopping 30 shots in Game 5. "The way they were skating, they wore you down. They were hitting us quite a bit and it's tough.

"We hung in there as best we could. We really wanted to win this game and end it tonight, but we'll have to refocus on the next game."

Already missing future Hall of Fame defenseman Al MacInnis with a separated shoulder suffered in Game 2, former Hart Trophy and Norris Trophy winner Chris Pronger was on the ice less (17 minutes, 26 seconds) than all St. Louis blueliners except for Khavanov (29 seconds). Rookie Barret Jackman led the Blues with 25:14, flowed by Jeff Finley (21:14), Bryce Salvador (19:44) and Laflamme (18:56).

Joel Quenneville wasn't making excuses, but the Blues coach will be sicker than any of his players if his team fails in its second chance to deliver a knockout blow to the dangerous Canucks in Game 6 at the Savvis Center.

"Well, we had the first period that we wanted. We were down 1-0 at the end of the period," Quenneville said of holding the Canucks to a Brent Sopel goal that bounced in off Khavanov on the way past Osgood at 2:15. "But we had some guys that weren't feeling very well tonight, and we were trying to get through it. We tried to battle. We got ourselves back in the end there ... They gave us everything they had."

Scott Mellanby missed Game 4 with the bug and was not his usual cantankerous self in his return to the lineup Friday night.

"It's frustrating not to have your energy level. And I think some guys felt their energy level was pretty poor tonight and that's just the way it is," Mellanby said. "It's unfortunate, but it's probably worse than playing hurt because no matter what you do, you can't overcome it."

Mellanby said he's past the worst of the illness, but if it strikes the other Blues as hard as it did him, some might still be feeling the effects Sunday.

Besides numerous injuries to star players such as Pronger and forwards Keith Tkachuk and Pavol Demitra throughout the regular season, the Blues had a similar problem in mid-December with food poisoning. Mellanby said five players, including himself, were out of the lineup and another five or 10 played while sick against New Jersey on Dec. 10 when only 18 of the usual 20 players managed to dress for the game.

"Like I said, somebody doesn't like us very much. It seems like it's injury after injury, and now this bug is kinda going around," he said. "It's very frustrating, and hard enough to win in this league with everything going your way.

"But we've been talking about adversity all year, maybe we've talked about it too much and we've brought it on ourselves. Maybe we've just got to start talking a little bit like it's all behind us and Sunday night we'll all be healthy, and we'll go out and win the series."

The Blues have done their best to avoid spreading the virus, even having Mellanby fly to Vancouver alone on commercial flights separate from the team to prevent the flu from circulating through the airplane to the rest of the players.

As the series goes back to St. Louis, suddenly, momentum appears to be swinging in the Canucks' favor. They had their first offensive burst of the five games as their top line of Todd Bertuzzi, Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison scored three goals (one by each player) after being held to just one (by Naslund) during the previous four games.

"It's not like we were working not to score," Bertuzzi said. "We're trying to work our tails off to get the goals. We've been getting our chances and they just haven't been going in, and as a goal scorer you understand if you're getting those chances they're bound to go in."

Except for gift-wrapping St. Louis' first goal by Tyson Nash, Dan Cloutier had his strongest game when it mattered most. He made tough saves as well as routine ones while stopping 29 shots. He said he and his teammates are gaining confidence.

"I definitely felt good tonight even though I let one in I should have had. But I didn't let that bother me. I battled through, and it worked out," Cloutier said.

He also was feeling better than Osgood, who suffered an undisclosed leg injury while doing the splits to make a remarkable sprawling save on a Bertuzzi break late in the second period. Osgood sounded convincing in denying it was a groin injury and shrugged off the problem as "nothing major," vowing to be ready for Game 6.

"It feels fine ... after I played and had treatment, it feels good," Osgood said.

Despite a seemingly rejuvenated Canucks offense, St. Louis center Doug Weight, who had two assists Friday to take over the playoff scoring lead with nine points, said the Blues are "as positive as heck" going back home ahead 3-2.

"It's not good. You've got some tired guys. Something like that is, I'm not going to say catastrophic, but it's a word close to that," Weight said. "I think it affects your team and maybe your psyche a little bit when you see however many guys we had that played with (the flu). And the guys that couldn't play with it, it affects your team and it's tough.

"But we expect to be refueled and ready to go Sunday, and certainly Vancouver's not going to feel sorry for us and you can't feel sorry for yourself. You've got to go out and win the game."

Jim Wilkie writes the NHL Insider for
St. Louis

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