The Vancouver Canucks were leaden at the start, outchanced throughout, sloppy with the puck, and struggled to string together passes and extend their shifts in the offensive zone.

If they'd played any worse Sunday, they'd have won by a touchdown.

Instead, they had to settle for a 3-1 National Hockey League win against the Colorado Avalanche because Canuck forward Mike Santorelli was the game's best player and Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo was No. 2.

Santorelli scored two goals and set up another in a terrific performance by he and linemates Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins. Besides, Luongo, not much else was terrific about the Canucks beyond their resiliency and opportunism.

Still, it was the Canucks' fourth straight win. And after losing games on their last homestand when Vancouver was the better team most nights, none of the Canucks felt sorry that the Avalanche left Rogers Arena without points despite being the better team for much of the night.

Despite playing a plodding, sloppy first period, the Canucks managed to carry a 1-0 lead through the intermission.

Higgins anticipated journeyman defenceman Nate Guenin's pass behind the Avalanche net and parlayed the turnover into a goal. Higgins centred quickly to Santorelli, who cut across the top of the Colorado crease and beat goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere with a backhand at 5:34.

It was Vancouver's first shot of the game, one of only two for the home team in the first 14 minutes as it was outshot 9-2 by Colorado.

Luongo made strong saves against John Mitchell and Matt Duchene on shots from the slot after a turnover by Canuck Dan Hamhuis and a lost battle by Andrew Alberts.

Since Canuck boss John Tortorella has said several times he doesn't coach by score or result, his talk to players during the intermission was probably loud and blunt because Vancouver easily could have trailed by a couple of goals.