Vancouver, BC – Ryan Kesler returned from a lengthy absence to score the game-winner in the first period and Cory Schneider posted 19 saves for his fifth shutout of the season to lead the Vancouver Canucks in a 2-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes.
Kesler had been out of action since Feb. 26 with a broken right foot, but he returned to play and scored his second goal of the season to help the Canucks win a third straight game.
"I think we want to go to the net and get rebounds as much as possible," said Kesler. "We just wanted to do that all game and we made it work once tonight, but it would have been nice to get a few more. Their guy did a great job."
The win gives Vancouver 50 points on the season and a four-point lead over Minnesota for first place in the Northwest Division and third place in the Western Conference. Minnesota, though, does have a game in hand.
Mike Smith was the hard-luck loser as he gave up just one goal on 41 shots as the Coyotes had a three-game winning streak snapped.
"I thought we pushed back in the third and really got it going," said Smith. "But I think we just didn't do enough to create chances and put the puck in the net."
Phoenix is sitting three points back of Detroit for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and has nine games left on the schedule.
Kesler didn't take long to make his presence known as he gave the Canucks a 1-0 lead at the 7:26 mark of the first period. Kevin Bieksa's shot from the high slot was going wide, but Mason Raymond was at the left of the net to re- direct it. His chance went behind the goaltender and also failed to go in, but Kesler was at the right side to slam it home for a 1-0 lead.
Vancouver appeared to take a 2-0 lead with 1.4 seconds left in the second period when Henrik Sedin got the puck in the net, but it was changed after a replay determined that he had kicked it in.
Phoenix was given a chance to tie the game when Kesler was called for tripping with 1:22 to play and the team pulled Smith for a 6-on-4.
With the puck deep in the Vancouver end, Antoine Vermette tried to get the puck back to the right point, but it slid past the stick of a diving Keith Yandle and it rolled the length of the ice and into the net.
Dan Hamhuis was given credit for the goal with one minute to play, and that sealed the win for the Canucks.
Roberto Luongo was scheduled to start the game in net for Vancouver, but left after hurting his wrist during warmups ... Schneider has nine shutouts in his career ... Vancouver begins a five-game road trip in Calgary on Wednesday ... Phoenix plays in Edmonton on Wednesday ... Vancouver took two of three from Phoenix this season.