VANCOUVER – From the fourth line to the second star, on a night when the Vancouver Canucks got a lot of contributions from unexpected sources, the ascension of Maxim Lapierre to the top line was the biggest story.
The usually agitating fourth-line center scored once and added two assists as a wing, sparking a seven-point outing for a new-look first line with Henrik Sedin and Alexandre Burrows and a 5-2 win over the Dallas Stars at Rogers Arena on Friday night.
On a night that started with a surprise switch in goal – Cory Schneider replaced Roberto Luongo after Luongo aggravated a sore neck in warmups – and finished with several slumps busted and their first five-game winning streak since November, the hot topic in the Canucks' locker room afterwards was Lapierre.
"When he plays with confidence and with that speed, he looks like Guy Lafleur out there," said Burrows, who scored 2:12 before Lapierre midway through the third period to break the game wide open. "Guys like to give it to him. They called him ‘Guy, Guy, Guy' once he got into the locker-room."
Henrik Sedin, who had three assists in his fifth game since twin brother Daniel was knocked out of the lineup with a concussion, made a different historical connection for his two new French-Canadian wings.
"They had a line back in the day called the French Connection," Sedin said after matching his point total of the previous six games. "We had that line tonight."
Lapierre didn't see it that way, insisting he didn't try to change anything from the game he normally plays while centering the fourth line. But after helping set up goals by Burrows and Andrew Alberts, his top-shelf wrist shot betrayed his skill.
"Personally I wanted to go there and play the same way I have all year," said Lapierre, who turned 27 Thursday and celebrated with the surprise promotion at Friday's morning skate. "I didn't want to go there and get fancy. I wanted to be heavy out there, play physical, and create some room for Alex and Henrik."
In doing so, he dealt Dallas' playoff push a serious blow,
"You've got to slap yourself in the butt, park it and get ready for that next game," captain Brenden Morrow said after the Stars fell out of the top spot in the Pacific Division.
The loss dropped Dallas into dropped to seventh in the West, one point behind Los Angeles -- a 4-1 winner at Edmonton. The Stars and Coyotes both have 89 points, but the Stars are seventh and the Coyotes eighth because Dallas has three more non-shootout wins. Both are just one point ahead of San Jose and Colorado, which won 4-1 at Calgary but has just two games remaining.
The Stars play in San Jose on Saturday – the first of a home-and-home series with the Sharks – which explains why Kari Lehtonen was pulled once Burrows made it 4-1 midway through the third period, giving him a chance to rest a little.
"We've got to kick the losses as quick as we can and move on to the next game," said Steve Ott, who tied the game early in the second period. "We played all the way to the last game of the year last year to have a playoff spot and we lost it, so we know how crucial moving on to the next game is for us."
Jake Dowell scored with 2:42 left for Dallas, and Lehtonen finished with 26 saves before giving way to Richard Bachman, who was beaten by a perfect high-glove wrist shot from Lapierre a minute later.
"Max is one of those guys who never complains about his role on the fourth line or the number of minutes he plays, but tonight he had an opportunity to play more minutes in a more offensive role and took full advantage," Burrows said. "He had great wheels. He wanted the puck. He's a good player. People don't give him enough credit for how good a player he is and he showed them."
Lapierre wasn't the only surprise for a team coming off consecutive 1-0 victories before matching its goal total from the previous three games combined.
Defensemen Sami Salo ended a personal 15-game drought and a 1-for-23 team funk on the power play to put the Canucks ahead for good 11:01 into the second period. Alberts extended the lead by snapping his 28-game goal drought – scoring his second in 77 games this season -- with 3:35 left in the period as the Canucks moved one point behind St. Louis in the race for first place in the Western Conference.
About the only constant was Chris Higgins, who opened the scoring with his fourth goal in as many games despite playing on the checking line.
Good goaltending has also been a constant during the Canucks' first five-game win streak in more than four months, but the guy providing it Friday was a surprise. Schneider was told earlier he might have to play after Luongo arrived in the morning with a stiff neck, but didn't know for sure until warmups.
He had to be sharp soon after, making a handful of great first-period saves.
"You never want to be forced into that situation, you hope everything is fine with [Luongo], but it's my job to be ready," Schneider said. "Sometimes it's better when you don't think too much and just go out there and play and fortunately I was able to make some good saves early and that momentum carried me."
Schneider, coming off a 43-save, 1-0 shutout of Colorado on Wednesday, made a left pad denial on Jamie Benn's shot off a 2-on-1, stopped Ott from below the left faceoff dot, got a piece of a double deflection, stuffed a shorthanded 2-on-1 that Fiddler shot alone in tight, a got a pad on a spinning shot down low by Benn and another from Mike Ribeiro in tight – all in the first period.
Ott tied it 3:16 into the second, banging in his own rebound after beating Ryan Kesler on the faceoff and then beating him to the net for two point-blank attempts. That ended Schneider's shutout streak at 95:32, and snapped the team streak, which also included a 1-0 shutout win for Luongo on Monday, at 173:55.
But Schneider, who entered the game second in the NHL with a .937 save percentage, responded with an incredible left toe save while doing the splits to rob Loui Eriksson on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush five minutes later, then made another point-blank stop off Fiddler shorthanded shortly before Salo scored.
"He made some big saves in the second off Loui Eriksson that could have made it 2-1," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "You run into that every now and then, goalies win games. I thought it was a pretty even game, but Schneider stood the test."