Canucks singing the (ex-)Blues, as they widen division lead


VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- The St. Louis Connection continues to score big for the Vancouver Canucks, as they increase their hold on first place in the Smythe Division.

Cliff Ronning scored twice and Geoff Courtnall had a goal and two assists Tuesday night as the Canucks stretched their lead over second-place Winnipeg to 11 points with a 4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks.

Ronning now has 17 goals and Courtnall 18 as the Canucks attempt to post their first winning record since 1975-76.

Vancouver, which won 28 of 80 regular-season games last season, is 23-12-7 this season with 38 games left.

Ronning and Courtnall were part of a six-player trade with the St. Louis Blues last March that immediately improved the Canucks.

"We're getting a lot of scoring chances and that's a good sign," Ronning said. "You don't get frustrated when you get so many chances."

Courtnall had five shots on goal and Ronning three as the Canucks raised their record to 5-1 against the expansion Sharks.

"We're hungry to show that we're a good hockey team," Ronning said. "We're motivated to play very hard.

"I'm fortunate to play with two great wingers [Courtnall and Trevor Linden]. Geoff is starting to go now as his speed picks up. We're going to need him down the stretch."

Courtnall has been slowed from the lingering affects of mononucleosis. Against the Sharks, he skated hard and made two accurate passes to Ronning for goals.

Ronning and Courtnall scored power-play goals early in the third period after a major penalty to San Jose's Kelly Kisio for checking Courtnall into the boards from behind.

"I hit my eye on the boards and hurt my wrist, but I'm all right," Courtnall said. "It just kind of stunned me a bit."

Vancouver goaltender Kirk McLean, who has three shutouts, lost his bid for another when San Jose winger David Bruce scored at 18:10 of the final period after a defensive error by Gerald Diduck.

Linden, the third member of the Canucks' top line, had one assist to run his team-leading total to 51 points.

Tom Fergus completed the Vancouver scoring with his fifth goal in seven games since joining the Canucks from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Linden and McLean will play in the NHL All-Star Game in Philadelphia on Jan. 18.

San Jose coach George Kingston saw his team's road record slip to 1-19-1.

"We gave them too much skating room in the first period," Kingston said when asked about goals by Ronning and Fergus.

"We played two very, very good games last week against Philadelphia and Montreal. Over the 80-game schedule it's not going to be a progressive and even thing all the way through. We were not as good as we have been and tomorrow we'll have to be better."

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