VANCOUVER – Down by two goals early in the second period, with their starting goaltender skating to the bench after being pulled and the home fans cheering it, the Vancouver Canucks could have called it a night and rested up for the playoffs.
Instead they treated it like preparation for the postseason.
Maxim Lapierre scored the tying goal late in the second period and added the shootout clincher as the Canucks won their seventh in a row, coming back three times to beat the Anaheim Ducks 5-4 at Rogers Arena on Tuesday night.
"We could have packed it in and say we'll bounce back and get ready for playoffs but we have a lot of character in this locker room," said Alexandre Burrows, who started the comeback by scoring his second goal of the game midway through the second period, and led off the shootout by beating Jonas Hiller again.
"We knew we wanted these two points and it might happen in the playoffs -- we might be done by two and have to put our work boots on and go back to work with time left, and we were able to take the play to them."
Did they ever. Vancouver outshot the Ducks 16-2 after the second period, but was unable to beat Hiller, who finished with 35 saves, until the shootout.
Burrows scored in the first round on a backhand deke, but Teemu Selanne, playing perhaps his final week in the NHL, tied it with a perfect shot over Cory Schneider's glove. Defenseman Alexander Edler then beat Hiller with a wrist shot low to the blocker side and, after Schneider stopped Saku Koivu, Lapierre deked and lifted a backhander over Hiller's glove to end the game.
"We had a chance to win until the shootout," said a visibly frustrated Hiller, who stopped David Booth's penalty shot 3:38 in but was beaten by all three Canucks in the shootout. "Their moves were better than ours were."
As tight as the Canucks played in the third period, they were just as loose in the first two, trading chances in a wide-open game at both ends.
Rod Pelley and Devante Smith-Pelly scored less than five minutes apart early in the second period to put Anaheim ahead 4-2 and chase Roberto Luongo, who stopped just 11 of 15 shots and skated off to cheers from the home crowd.
"It's getting old," Schneider said. "I'm glad they like me and support me, but he's a guy that has done a lot for this team and this city and he deserves a lot better."
That may be true, but the Canucks rallied after Schneider took over, with Burrows scoring his second goal midway through the period and Lapierre tying it with 1:27 left in the period on a blind shot from the blue line that Anaheim defenseman Sheldon Brookbank deflected past Hiller with his glove.
Schneider needed to make only nine saves, and just one in the third period -- on a shorthanded 2-on-1 – as the Canucks maintained control of their fate atop the Western Conference by moving three points ahead of idle St. Louis. Vancouver has two games remaining, while the Blues have three.
"I made the goaltender switch there to see if we couldn't spark things up a little bit," coach Alain Vigneault said. "After that we played real well."
Chris Higgins had the other goal for the Canucks, who are tied with the New York Rangers atop the NHL with 109 points. However, the Rangers own the tiebreaker on Vancouver in the Canucks' bid for a second-straight Presidents Trophy.
Ryan Getzlaf snapped a 14-game goal drought, and Corey Perry also scored in the first period for 13th-place Anaheim, which has lost three straight games.
"I think we can play better," said Hiller, who is stuck on 29 wins. "But it's tough when you're out of the playoffs and you know you still have to play those games and you have to find a way to motivate yourself and everything."
Anaheim took two first-period leads, but the Canucks answered both quickly.
First it was Getzlaf with 6:42 left taking a between-the-legs drop pass from Perry before a subtle drag-and-shoot from 20 feet that fooled Luongo and went between his legs – just the second goal in 33 games and 10th this season for the Anaheim captain. Burrows responded 59 seconds later, but Perry restored the lead on a power play with 3:53 left in the period, walking out of the corner unchecked to create a 2-on-1 down low before lifting a backhand over Luongo's glove. Higgins tied it again with 1:41 left with a nifty deflection from the high slot that caught Hiller moving the wrong way.
Anaheim went back ahead 2:24 into the second period after Bobby Ryan stripped Booth of the puck along the wall and skated in off the wall before spotting Pelley all alone in the slot for a one-timer that went through a sliding Luongo. Smith-Pelly also assisted on that goal, and added his own at 7:03, after Ryan won the puck on the corner and threw a hard pass to him alone atop the crease.
That was it for Luongo, but Schneider, who is second in the NHL with a .938 save percentage and third with a 1.93 goals-against average, was quick to defend his partner.
"There's nothing Lu can do when guys are sitting alone untouched in front of the net like that," he said. "It was more the circumstance than who was in net."
Luongo didn't let himself off the hook as easily, despite some porous defense early on.
"It's not an excuse," Luongo said. "I've got to make the save. You don't want pucks going through you in any circumstance. Even though there were breakdowns, I've got to come up with the save. I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't play up to my expectations and I don't have a reason for it."
Burrows started the comeback by sweeping a rebound under Hiller and Lapierre tied it with his third goal in four games since being moved up to the top line with Sedin and Burrows in place of the injured Daniel Sedin, who missed a seventh straight game with a concussion – when Brookbank tried to glove down his arcing shot and inadvertently deflected it past a stunned Hiller.
Vancouver did lose rookie forward Zack Kassian, who left late in the second period with an upper-body injury to his right side and did not return. That may just mean ever more ice time for Lapierre, who is surprising most with his offense, earning just his second chance this season in the shootout.
"We're confident offensively right now," Lapierre said. "Obviously, we were not playing the way we wanted today defensively, but we'll fix that."
It looked like they'd already started in the third period.