VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks didn't acquire Samuel Pahlsson for his offense. He picked a good time to chip in with a goal.
Added just before the Feb. 27 trade deadline to be a third-line checking center, Pahlsson took a drop pass from Kevin Bieksa in the high slot and wired a slap shot over the glove of a stunned Ondrej Pavelec with 5:43 left, lifting the Canucks to a 3-2 comeback win against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.
"It's fun to score a goal and it's better when it's a game-winner," Pahlsson said of his third goal in a season that started in Columbus and has admittedly been his most frustrating. "I would like to be the guy that scores all the time but that's not the way it is. It's not my role, even though I have to chip in once in a while."
It was a heartbreaking ending for a desperate Jets team that overcame a terrible start to take the lead on Blake Wheeler's goal 3:34 into the third period. But Alexander Edler tied it on a lucky bounce a little more than three minutes later, setting the stage for Pahlsson to play the unlikely hero and deal Winnipeg's playoff run a blow.
"The guy made a hell of a shot," said Wheeler, who had Edler's tying goal from the point deflect in off his shot-block attempt. "Sometimes you make good shots right under the bar."
Ryan Kesler opened the scoring shorthanded early in the second period, and Cory Schneider made 30 saves as the Canucks snapped a two-game regulation losing skid with just their second win in six games (2-2-2) to stay one point behind St. Louis atop the Western Conference and NHL standings.
"One of our better games in a while," Schneider said of his team's performance. "It took to the end but I like how we played for the most part. Lately we've been frustrated or change the way we play when we are down, but tonight they got that early goal in the third and we didn't quit, didn't hang our heads. We knew they were going to come."
Ex-Canuck Kyle Wellwood also scored and Pavelec finished with 42 stops for the Jets, who fell behind Washington in the battle for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Jets and Capitals each have 72 points, but the Jets trail in the standings because they've played one more game.
Despite having a brief third-period lead, coach Claude Noel wasn't impressed with his team.
"We didn't deserve to … win the game," Noel said. "You can't play a B-game against Vancouver; they are too good, too skilled. They could have beat us way more than they beat us tonight, and having said that we had a chance to win it. Our goalie was good and gave us a chance, which he does all the time."
The Jets were coming off a 5-1-2 homestand and 6-1-2 run, but fell to 11-18-4 on the road, which could cost them a playoff spot. Noel said the play in Vancouver had nothing to do with being on the road, but Wheeler wasn't so sure.
"You could say it was a one-goal game and we had a chance to win it and that's awesome. But there's a certain way that we play that makes us a good team – tonight wasn't that," Wheeler said. "We can skate way better, make teams defend harder. We don't really do that as much on the road. That's the big elephant in the room. At home we're flying around, the crowd's roaring, we're scoring goals. On the road we don't do the same things. The biggest thing to take out of tonight is we weren't doing what we've been doing the last eight games and it showed."
Visiting Vancouver as the Jets for the first time in just over 16 years, Winnipeg was greeted by chants of "Go Jets Go" during a pre-game montage and at points during the first period. But fans of the visitors didn't have much to cheer early as the Jets were outshot 15-2 during the first 11 minutes by a Canucks team eager to avoid its first three-game regulation losing streak on home ice in three years.
The onslaught included six shots and a goalpost from its struggling power play midway through the period, with Kesler ringing an early one-timer off iron and denied by the glove of Pavelec from alone in the slot later.
"It was an important win for us, we wanted to get back in the 'W' column," Kesler said. "We came out of the gate really strong."
Winnipeg finally found the other end of the rink late, forcing Schneider to make a great save off Jim Slater from the low slot and stuff Evander Kane in alone on a 2-on-1 rush late in a period that finished with the shots 20-11 for Vancouver.
The Jets got a power play 37 seconds into the second period after leading scorer Wheeler was tripped hard into the post after getting around Edler – a play similar to Wheeler's goal later -- but Kesler opened the scoring shorthanded. Tobias Enstrom's pass up the boards hit the referee and skipped to Kesler, who turned into the high slot for a shot that knuckled through the legs of Pavelec at 1:44.
Wellwood, who played two seasons in Vancouver from 2008-10, tied it at 15:22 after a shot off the wall through traffic by Evander Kane left a rebound sitting in front of the crease. Wellwood quickly pulled his 15th goal around Schneider.
"It feels good to score but we gotta find a way to get points in the standings on the road and tonight was a tough one to lose," Wellwood said.
Vancouver poured it on after the goal, but Pavelec made a good sliding save on a diving Alexandre Burrows redirection, got a break when Kesler hit another post, and made a great glove save through traffic to bail the Jets out after being pinned in their own end and pressured through two straight Canucks shifts.
Wheeler and Edler swapped goals in the third, and each one was involved in the other. First it was Wheeler driving wide around Edler to create a 2-on-1 down low before beating Schneider to the short side under the glove as he pulled off the post early. Edler tied it at 6:26, when his point shot hit Wheeler in the back as he attempted to block it, sending the puck fluttering into the air through traffic, off the stick of defenseman Ron Hainsey and through Pavelec's legs.
"We made a lot of mistakes and if you make those mistakes you can't expect to win against those guys," Pavelec said. "It's a tough team to play against. We could have had the two points. We have to stay positive."