What A Difference A Day Makes: Canucks Bury Flames…
After what must have felt like a week from hell – four straight losses, Roberto Luongo yanked in consecutive games, Brendan Morrison injured (and out for the season) and outscored 14-7 in those same four games – the Canucks came out looking like men on a mission in their game against Northwest Division rivals the Calgary Flames Sunday night. It was in stark contrast to their disinterested play of late.
It’s become a cliche to call every single Canucks game a “must-win”, however there are few other phrases that do justice to the magnitude of Sunday’s tilt: the Canucks had nonchalantly dropped into ninth spot in the Western Conference with just four games remaining, all against Northwest Division teams. With five games remaining, I’d speculated they’d need to win three, but more probably four, of their final five games; they promptly lost the first one 4-0 to the Minnesota Wild. Now, with four left, they were up against a team which had out worked, out shot, out muscled and out scored them just five days prior (a 3-2 loss in which the Canucks blew a first period 2-0 lead).
This time, Calgary got the early lead on a goal by David Moss – just his third in 38 games – at the 1:13 mark of the first period. Moss, parked in front of the net, tipped a slap shot by Wayne Primeau past Roberto Luongo. The Canucks, however, got that one back when Sami Salo let go one of his patented cannon shots from the point, tying it up at the 11:54 mark with his eighth. That goal came on the power play, after the Flames were called for too many men on the ice.
The Flames weren’t done yet. With a minute and eight seconds left in the first period, Matthew Lombardi scored his 14th of the season with Roberto Luongo down and scrambling to regain his stick. Luongo had lost his stick after a collision with a Flame in the crease, and was facing the back of the net when the puck came out front to Lombardi. Lombardi’s goal came on a Flames power play, after Byron Ritchie was assessed two minutes for slashing. It looked as though the Canucks would enter the dressing room down a goal, however Marcus Naslund, with his 25th goal, once again drew the Canucks into a tie after potting the rebound of a two-on-one break for the Canucks. That goal came with just 39 seconds left, and only 29 seconds after Calgary had regained the lead. Shots on goal for the period were essentially even, with the Flames holding a slight 9-8 edge on the Canucks.
In the second period, a period during which the Canucks have severely struggled of late, Vancouver took over the game and never looked back. Hometown hero Trevor Linden, left open in front of Miikka Kiprusoff, took a feed from Byron Ritchie and lifted the puck over a sprawling Kiprusoff for his sixth of the season at the 1:53 mark. Linden, however, wasn’t done for the night. Just under five minutes later, the former Canucks’ captain found a rebound to Kiprusoff’s right and buried the puck in the net. Linden’s seventh of the season came at the 6:49 mark and was enough to drive Kiprusoff from the net in favour of Curtis Joseph. Miikka Kiprusoff let in four goals on just 13 shots, a very un-Kiprusoff-like 0.692 save percentage on the night. Joseph didn’t fare much better.
12:16 into the second period, Matt Pettinger scored his sixth of the season, showing some great hands in flipping the puck into the top of the net while in tight to the goal, with Joseph leaving very little room. The Canucks entered the dressing room up 5-2 after two periods. Shots were 15-8 in favour of the Canucks.
Vancouver started the third period in much the same way they’d started the second: with a quick goal, this time Brad Isbister with his sixth of the season on a quick shot from the half boards at the 0:52 mark. It was a shot Joseph should have had. The Canucks spent the better part of the rest of the third period trying valiantly to set Trevor Linden up for the hat trick, a feat that would have sent the home town crowd nuts (OK, they were already nuts after a rare, dominant display by Vancouver; they’d have gotten “nuts-ier”…).
Roberto Luongo played a great game, stopping Jerome Iginla on a partial breakaway, Adrian Aucoin with a hard shot from the slot after a great feed from Iginla and a spectacular save at the right side of his net during which the puck bounced up off his right leg pad, landed atop the pad as Luongo went down flat on his back and then somehow stayed out of the net. While the crowd waited to see if the puck had gone in, Luongo, after some moments, casually lifted his blocker hand off the ice to disclose the puck, half a foot outside the goal line. Roberto Luongo looked like he is back in form after successive very, very shaky outings (games, it should be noted, which framed the birth of his first child).
Also solid for the Vancouver Canucks were Kevin Bieksa, finishing the night with three assists and 25:01 of ice time, and Henrik Sedin, who finished with two assists. For the Flames, Jerome Iginla played a solid game with a single assist, some good hits and the aforementioned partial breakaway, however Alex Burrows clearly got under Iginla’s skin, as could be seen late in the game when Iginla gave Burrows a punch to the back of the head followed by a jab to Burrows’ face.
The Canucks played the most complete game they’ve played in a long, long time and showed grit and resolve in coming back from behind twice. Even the captain, Marcus Naslund, got into the act, scoring a goal and laying a heavy hit (Naslund, hitting?!?) on Jerome Iginla (Naslund hitting Jerome Iginla?!?) deep in Vancouver’s zone in the first period. When Naslund is engaged the whole team plays better hockey.
The win moves Vancouver back into eighth place in the Western Conference, one point up on Nashville, two points behind the Calgary Flames.
Next up: the Colorado Avalanche, Tuesday April 1, 7pm in Vancouver. TV: SNP; HD: Yes.