VANCOUVER – Few things have been more rare than a Canucks' game ending on time lately. Jannik Hansen scoring a goal was one of them.
But on a night of streaks against the Colorado Avalanche, it was the speedy Danish forward that broke a couple bad ones to make sure a good one continued.
Hansen's one-timer with 6:29 left to play ended his 12-game goal drought and put Vancouver ahead for good in a 3-1 win against the Avs at Rogers Arena on Wednesday night, extending the Canucks winning run against Colorado to 13-0-2. And when Alexandre Burrows added an empty not goal five minutes later, it ensured the Canucks wouldn't have to play extra time for the ninth time in 11 games.
"After the second (period), I was already getting mentally ready for the shootout," joked Roberto Luongo, who made 29 saves to avoid his seventh straight trip to the breakaway competition. "I was thinking about shooters, the whole thing, but it was nice to get one in regulation."
Stymied since David Booth opened the scoring just 13 seconds in, the Canucks finally got a second goal after a turnover in the Colorado zone ended up on the stick of rookie Cody Hodgson in the slot. His pass to Hansen inside the faceoff circle was hammered over the shoulder of a sliding Semyon Varlamov.
"It was nice to see it go in," said Hansen. "I haven't had too many chances lately. It was nice that it was late in the game and we were able to hold on so it was two big points for us. Now we get off a little earlier than normal."
Despite playing extra time for just third time in 11 games, Vancouver improved to 8-0-3 in that stretch and moved within two points of idle Detroit atop the Western Conference. Canucks coach Alain Vigneault thinks all the tight games are good.
"It's playoff hockey," Vigneault said. "For every team right now, look across the League, most nights are tight, hard-fought, one-goal games, and your players have to be able to play in those times. When the score is 5-2 and you score that sixth goal … when the score is 1-1 what are you doing for me? Are you helping us out defensively? Are you helping us out offensively?"
Hansen hadn't done much of either lately, even spending time on the fourth line recently. But he looked better against the Avalanche even before Vigneault shook up his lines in the third period, putting Hodgson with him.
"Chances have been far and in between," Hansen said.
His coach thinks they'll go up as Hansen, who has been guilty of playing too cute after scoring 11 goals before Christmas, rediscovers his old gritty style.
"When he's really assertive and aggressive on the puck and real hard on the forecheck, he creates turnovers, he gets under people's skin, he brings that energy," Vigneault said. "Tonight he did it on a more regular basis. And it's funny how things go, when you get a little more involved you find a way to contribute offensively and that's what happened tonight with a big goal from him."
Erik Johnson scored for the Avalanche, which lost starting goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere to a groin strain with 3:54 left in the first period. Varlamov, coming off a career-high 41 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss to St. Louis on Sunday, took over and finished with 20 stops. But it wasn't enough to keep Colorado from losing in regulation for the first time in five games (2-1-2), failing to make up ground in the West to stay three behind idle Phoenix for the eighth and final spot.
"It's frustrating to have the game 1-1 with that much time left in the game and not come away with a point or two," Avs coach Joe Sacco said. "There's a lot at stake in each game right now. The points are very valuable."
The loss was tough for Colorado in more ways than one.
In addition to losing Giguere in the first period, top-six winger Peter Mueller was a late scratch with a torso injury, and fellow forward TJ Galiardi, back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch in St. Louis, left early with the same. Top forward Matt Duchene, out since Dec. 29 with a knee injury, is traveling with the team on a road trip that continues in Edmonton Friday, but wasn't ready to play.
"I thought we regrouped, we dug in," Sacco said. "We faced a little bit of adversity, but I liked the way our guys responded being shorthanded on the bench."
The good news is Giguere's injury doesn't appear serious, and Colorado doesn't play again until Friday in Edmonton. In the meantime, Varlamov continued the roll he started in St. Louis despite watching eight of the previous nine, including a key breakaway save off Booth with five minutes left in the second period.
"We know how he can play when he's on his game," said Paul Stastny, who was denied three times by Luongo in the third. "He made some big-time stops for us to keep us in the game. He was definitely the bright spot for us tonight."
The start certainly wasn't.
On the first shift, Booth knocked a loose puck past Giguere while being taken down hard by Ryan O'Byrne. It was his sixth goal and 10th point in just 12 games since returning after missing six weeks with a knee sprain suffered on a knee-on-knee hit that earned Colorado's Kevin Porter a four-game suspension.
"I took a hit right after and didn't even know it went in," Booth said. "It's fun playing (with confidence). I still make mistakes out there but instead of getting down you just kind of brush it off and know you can make the plays."
The Canucks continued to press, peppering Giguere with seven shots, including several great scoring chances in the first six minutes. But after Giguere left during a TV timeout, it was Luongo that had to make the best save of the period, sprawling out with the right pad to rob Porter on a 2-on-1 with 2.7 seconds left.
Luongo didn't have much of a chance when Johnson tied it midway through the second period. Colorado captain Milan Hejduk, who passed Adam Foote for second place all time on the franchise list by playing his 968th career game with Colorado one day after his 36th birthday, had all kinds of time atop the left faceoff circle to spot Johnson alone atop the crease at the other side with a pass. He quickly snapped it past a sprawling Luongo for his second goal in as many games after only scoring once in his first 50 contests this season. But it wasn’t enough to keep the Avalanche from falling to 2-13-1 within the lowly Northwest Division, a record that could come back to haunt their playoff pursuit.
"It's costing us," said defenseman Shane O'Brien, a former Canuck. "If we look back here and end up coming up a little bit short for the playoffs, obviously you look inside your division, you can't have that bad of a record. For whatever reason, we can't find a way to get it done against this division."