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Joshua, Garland pace Vancouver Canucks in 4-2 win over Chicago Blackhawks

Conor Garland scored twice, Dakota Joshua added a goal and two assists, and the NHL-leading Vancouver Canucks beat the depleted Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 on Tuesday night.

Nils Hoglander scored for the third straight game as the Canucks improved to 36-12-6 and 78 points. Vancouver hasn’t led the league this late in a season since 2012, when it went on to win the second of consecutive Presidents’ Trophies.

Vancouver outshot league-worst Chicago 38-23, controlling the puck for extended runs in dealing the Blackhawks their seventh straight loss. Thatcher Demko made 21 saves.

“We played to our structure, we played fast,” Garland said. “You know we’re a quick neutral zone team.”

Joshua, who fought MacKenzie Entwistle late in the third period, echoed that.

“We were good and on top of things tonight,” Joshua said. “We didn’t give them a whole lot and we were just able to keep our composure and squeak out a win.”

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The Canucks wrapped up a five-game trip at 3-1-1 and swept the season series with Chicago, 3-0.

“I thought it was a businesslike game,” Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet said. “We got our two points, 3-1-1 (on the road) and we get back home to Vancouver.”

Tyler Johnson and rookie defenceman Kevin Korchinski scored for Chicago. Petr Mrazek blocked 34 shots.

The Blackhawks, at 14-36-3 and 31 points, have scored just 15 goals in their last 13 games, all without injured rookie Connor Bedard.

“You know, I think we’ve been proud of how our guys have worked the last month, but not tonight,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. “That wasn’t the same effort, you know, kind of the same result.

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“They really showed where they are in the standings and showed us where we are. So that’s nothing to be proud of tonight.”

Richardson on Monday said Bedard, out since Jan. 5 with a broken jaw, could be cleared for contact drills as early as next week then progress quickly to games. Wearing a green no-contact jersey and a full face shield, Bedard participated in skating, passing and shooting drills at full speed in the team’s Tuesday morning skate.

Although he’s played in just 39 games, the 18-year-old centre entered Tuesday as the NHL’s leading rookie goal scorer with 15 and was tied with Minnesota defenceman Brock Faber for the lead in rookie points with 33.

The Canucks took a 1-0 lead on Garland’s 10th goal at 10:05. Garland fired into an open net to cap a give-and-go with Joshua.

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Vancouver outshot Chicago 12-1 in the opening period and held Chicago without a shot until Seth Jones fired on Demko during a power play with 30 seconds left, prompting a derisive cheer from the crowd.

“I thought they turned their speed up and their want,” Richardson said.

Garland got credit for his 11th goal at 8:18 of the second to make it 2-0. Filip Hronek’s shot from the right point struck Garland’s skate has he danced through the slot and the puck trickled past Mrazek.

Johnson scored his first goal since returning from a foot injury with 3:17 left in the second to cut it to 2-1. Johnson’s shot from the slot deflected in off Demko’s stick.

Hoglander made it 3-1 just under two minutes later. Joshua scored at 6:07 of the third off a feed from Teddy Blueger for a 4-1 lead.

Korchinski swept to the net to score his third goal off Ryan Donato’s feed with 6:33 remaining.

Chicago played without defencemen Connor Murphy and Jarred Tinordi, both on injured reserve with groin injuries. The Blackhawks also are without defenceman Nikita Zaitsev (knee) and forwards Andreas Athanasiou (groin), Anthony Beauvillier (broken left wrist) and Taylor Hall (right ACL surgery).

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