VANCOUVER – After racking up some early debt, the "American Express line" is starting to post some positive charges for the Canucks.
The U.S.-born trio of David Booth, Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins combined for two key goals and eight points while sparking Vancouver's comeback from a first-period deficit and turn a tight game into a 5-1 route against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena on Sunday night.
Higgins and Booth led the way with a goal and two assists each, combining to set up Kevin Bieksa's tying goal on a power play five minutes into the second period, then taking turns scoring with 59 seconds left, and then 40 seconds into the third.
It was a big night for a line recently re-united after struggling together early.
"That line has got a tremendous amount of potential," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "There's something there, and they want to make it work. They're working extremely hard on and off the ice with the video to form that chemistry you need. At the beginning, there was something there and it is improving on a daily basis – and a lot of that has to do with David feeling more comfortable in his environment."
Booth only scored twice in his first 13 games, but now has three in the last five. The two biggest goals Sunday came on his wraparounds – Higgins shoveling in the rebound of Booth's first attempt through traffic on the backhand, and the second going directly off goalie Henrik Karlsson's stick and in between his legs. It's a good sign given all the questions about Booth when he first arrived in a late-October trade from Florida were about his willingness to got to the net after suffering a couple of serious concussions.
"Everyone has their opinion and that's all right," said Booth, who has 13 points after arriving from Florida with only one assist in his first six games. "Looking back it was tough, but there's so many assets here to make your game better and I am using them."
Two of the best ones are Higgins, who now has eight goals, and Kesler, who had two assists against Calgary and is starting to show the form that made him a Selke Trophy winner last season before offseason hip surgery slowed him early this year.
"Those guys are so skilled, so it's been fun playing with them and they've been making my game better," said Booth, who was also called for goaltender interference after running over Miikka Kiprusoff shortly after he replaced an injured Karlsson early in the third.
"Just trying to take that puck around the area and make stuff happen," Booth said. "The 'D' cut me off and there was no way else to go."
The second line's outburst made a winner out of Roberto Luongo, who finished with 21 saves in his first start in three weeks.
Ironically, it also came on a night Mason Raymond played his first game almost six months after breaking his back in the Stanley Cup Final -- an injury that has since dropped him off that line and down to the third unit.
It didn't matter against a Calgary team the Canucks have now won 10 of 12 against, as Raymond got a warm ovation after setting up Jannik Hansen's goal just over a minute after Booth scored. Daniel Sedin rounded out the scoring on a power play at 5:42.
"It's very nice to have a good warm welcome from the fans," Raymond said. "I've been out a long time. To get an assist is a bonus."
Luongo agreed the win was all that mattered, especially after watching Cory Schneider start five straight and then losing 6-5 in a rare relief appearance against Nashville on Thursday, ending the team's five-game win streak. Luongo made several good early saves, but gave up a goal on Alex Tanguay's shot from below the goal line with 1:16 left in the first before only seeing nine shots over the final 40 minutes.
"You work hard in practice and hope it translates in the game it really didn't feel like I hadn't started in three weeks tonight," he said, shaking his head at the sharp-angle shot that did beat him. "I got a couple shots early and was able to make some big saves and it got me into it and I'm not exactly sure what happened. It was frustrating because I felt like one of those games where it was going to be tough to beat me."
Flames coach Brent Sutter would have liked to see his team try a few more times. Coming off a 5-3 win in Edmonton the night before, the Flames outshot Vancouver 13-10 in the first period, but only mustered nine shots the rest of the way and failed to record at least a point for the first time in five games (3-1-1). Vancouver has won now won 10 of its last 12 against the Flames – and even the two losses came in overtime – and has outscored them 51-23 in that span, including another 5-1 victory in Calgary earlier this season.
"The first period was as good of a period as we've played all year," Sutter said. "They got that first goal on us and we stopped moving our feet and stood around and allowed them to take it to us and started making mistakes. Down one goal heading into the third period, you've really got to buckle into your game and how you're going to play it, then the first shift you get scored against and it just seemed to snowball after that."
Making things worse, Karlsson, who replaced Miikka Kiprusoff as the only change from the night before, left early in the third after teammate Tom Kostopoulos fell into him. He went down clutching his right knee, but after a long break appeared to be staying in before changing his mind just before the puck dropped. Sutter said he would be re-evaluated on Monday, but was more upset with Booth running into Kiprusoff shortly after than the play that took out Sunday's starter.
As for Karlsson -- who hasn't won this season -- he wasn't laying blame.
"He made some saves and there was a couple goals he'd like to have back," Sutter said. "We certainly need our backup to win us some games, but I'm not putting this on Karl's shoulders. It wasn't a very good game on our part from the start of the second on."
1 - 0 CGY
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 VAN
3 - 1 VAN
4 - 1 VAN
5 - 1 VAN
Delaying Game - Puck over glass
Interference - Goalkeeper
Interference - Goalkeeper