<
>

Naslund, Canucks miss out on titles

4/6/2003

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- Jamie Storr took the spoiler
role to a new level.

Storr made 27 saves, and Mikko Eloranta snapped a scoreless tie
with 5:55 left as the Los Angeles Kings beat Vancouver 2-0 and cost
the Canucks the Northwest Division title.

"We took a valuable two points away from them,'' said Storr,
who also ended Canucks captain Markus Naslund's quest to win both
the NHL point and goal-scoring races.

Naslund came into the game one point ahead of Colorado Avalanche
forward Peter Forsberg in the point race and one goal behind the
Avalanche's Milan Hejduk in the goal race, but failed to record a
point for the first time in eight games and lost out on both
titles.

"It was good motivation,'' added Storr, beaten 5-1 by Vancouver
last Saturday. "Yeah they handled us, but you can lie down and let
a great team beat you or you can make them work for everything they
get.''

Vancouver almost tied it on a wild power-play scramble with four
minutes left. But the puck somehow stayed out of the net, and
Brendan Morrison was whistled for a penalty on a short-handed rush
at the other end.

Eric Belanger scored into an empty net with 42.6 seconds left --
ending any chance the Canucks would earn the single point they
needed to clinch their first division title in a decade. Instead,
the Colorado Avalanche earned their NHL-record ninth straight
division championship with a 5-2 win over St. Louis earlier Sunday.

Naslund used the word "choke'' while addressing fans in a
postgame ceremony, but backpedaled in the locker room

"I don't want to call it a choke, but we didn't take advantage
of the two chances,'' Naslund said in referring also to the
two-goal third period lead the Canucks squandered during a tie at
Phoenix on Wednesday.

The fourth-place Canucks will start the playoffs at home against
St. Louis.

"It's disappointing right now, there's no question about that,
but we've got to look at the big picture,'' Naslund said. "We're
starting at home, playing against a team that we've had success
against this year. We've had a good season so I think you've got to
put things in perspective and I think we'll be OK in a couple of
days.''

It was the second time this week the Kings, who finished 14
points out of the playoffs, played the role of spoiler. Los Angeles
gave the Canucks a chance to win the division by beating Colorado
on Wednesday.

"We play to beat each team and it happened to be a spoiler
tonight,'' Storr said.

Dan Cloutier made 25 saves, and for a while it looked like his
performance might be enough for the Canucks. But Brent Sopel give
the puck away up the middle and Eloranta banged in a loose puck
after Jerred Smithson put a rebound off the post.

"As the game went on we started getting scared to make
mistakes,'' said Naslund, who rang a shot off the post behind Storr
midway through the second period.

Sopel also hit the post five minutes in as Vancouver controlled
most of the chances through two scoreless periods. But Artem
Chubarov and Daniel Sedin both missed open nets. Todd Bertuzzi
couldn't get a good shot away on a partial breakaway in the first.

Storr also robbed Chubarov on a close-range redirection off the
rush in the first. Henrik Sedin couldn't get his stick on a tap in
early in the second.

"I don't think we choked,'' Canucks coach Marc Crawford said.
"We didn't play as well as we could have and we didn't have the
bounces go our way. We hit a few posts and had a couple of open
nets and we squeezed our sticks a little bit too much. There's
nothing we can do about it now, we have to look forward.''

Game notes
Naslund, who finished with 48 goals, was trying to become
just the second Swedish player to score 50 goals in a season. Hakan
Loob was the only other Swede to score 50, in 1988-89 with the
Calgary Flames. ... Vancouver C Mats Lindgren (back) and RW Brad
May (concussion) returned after missing nine games. D Mattias
Ohlund missed his 18th game since having knee surgery in early
March. He has resumed skating and hopes to be back for Game 1 of
the playoffs. ... Ziggy Palffy, who led the Kings with 37 goals and
85 points, plans to play for Slovakia at the World Championships,
starting April 26 in Finland.