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A stumble in St. Louis

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
The finish line to the end of the season is within sight and the sprint is on between Vancouver and Calgary to the red ribbon that is a Northwest Division title.

Too bad neither team wants to take charge and break through it.

Both the Canucks and Flames were losers on Thursday night; Vancouver was upended 4-2 by the St. Louis Blues, while the Columbus Blue Jackets stomped Calgary 5-0.

The Flames have been shutout in back-to-back games and seem to be imploding, the same can not be said for the Canucks as explaining their loss to the Blues is easy: St. Louis wanted the win more.

If there’s one team that no top dog wants to face in the opening round of the playoffs, it’s a squad like the Blues, what with their youthful exuberance, hardworking nature and we-may-not-win-but-we’ll-kill-ourselves-trying attitude.

To compete with that, Vancouver started this game in fifth gear outshooting St. Louis 7-2 in the early going. The Canucks were all over the ice as they beat the Blues at their own game and it led to a 1-0 lead 4:12 into the first period.

Pyatt’s 10th goal of the season was a result of his own spirited play as he tracked down Patrik Berglund and forced a turnover when he was trying to clear the puck out of the St. Louis end.

Steve Bernier came away with it and he hit Kyle Wellwood with a swift pass just above the right faceoff dot, Wellwood then sent Pyatt a perfect back pass that he one-timed through Chris Mason’s gaping five-hole.

Against a desperate team like St. Louis that is currently on the outside looking in and needs points any way it can get them, this was a textbook start for Vancouver.

It’s a shame the Canucks didn’t read the next few chapters.

After Vancouver opened the scoring, St. Louis took command of the period and eventually the game outshooting the Canucks 30-16 the rest of the way, which included a stretch of over 17 minutes where the visitors failed to record a shot between the first and second period.

The Canucks couldn’t match the intensity and will the Blues put forth, sprinkle in some undisciplined play mixed with a heaping tablespoon of power play inefficiency and voila, Vancouver lost for the fifth time in six games on the road.

“We had a good start then the momentum shifted quite a bit and they took over the game,” said coach Alain Vigneault.

“It was a very hostile, tough environment to play in and when you’re playing against an opponent that is that aggressive and that committed to their game, you need your four lines and your six ds going on top of their game.

“The line between a win and a loss is so small that you need everybody going and tonight we didn’t have everybody going and we couldn’t get it done.”

Vancouver finished an abysmal 0-for-5 on the power play with only five shots and even managed to give up a shorthanded goal early in the second period; the Canucks were equally ineffective on the penalty kill as St. Louis scored two goals, including the game-winner early in the third period, while up a man.

Special teams production of any kind is of big time importance these days and not getting in a groove on the PP or PK sunk the Canucks on this night.

“We wanted to play well, we wanted to play hard, but I think once again we took too many penalties and that really gave them some momentum,” commented Alex Burrows, who scored his 25th goal of the season to tie the game up at 2-2 midway through the second period.

“I think we took three in a row in the first period, that kind of carried over in the second, early on they were skating well and our legs weren’t moving as good so we have to make sure we have a better skate tomorrow.”

The Canucks are in Colorado Friday night and the visitors would be smart to mimic the effort the Blues had, in addition to making a few other minor adjustments to ensure their road woes don’t continue.

“We have to make sure we have a third man high, we gave them a lot of rush chances, we turned the puck over way too many times tonight and that gave them some offence and that’s how they generated their speed and we’ve got to stay out of the box, those are the three biggest keys for tomorrow night," said Burrows.

“Even though Colorado is last in the standings, they’re still a dangerous team and we have to make sure we’re ready.”

Vancouver stumbled in its attempt to inch closer to the Flames, but Calgary also failed to gain ground on the Northwest crown, so all is not lost.

If the Canucks can put one foot in front of the other tomorrow night and avoid tumbling again, the sprint will continue and before the weekend is through Vancouver may even be in front.

600th – Career game for Ryan Johnson

25 – Goals for Alex Burrows this season

22:35 Ice time for Kevin Bieksa, he led all Canucks

28 – Saves for Roberto Luongo, 12 in the first period

9-5-1 Vancouver's road record when leading after the first period

The Canucks set a torrid pace in the early going only to sit back and watch their lead evaporate.

Once St. Louis took control midway through the first period, Vancouver never recovered.

The Blues just had more oomph - they were the hungrier team and it was glaringly evident.

Vancouver was outshot by  St. Louis 32-23.

Roberto Luongo, Vancouver's last line of defence, was the only reason this game wasn't over a lot sooner.

Luongo had his best outing in three contests with 28 saves, at least seven of which were show stoppers.

The Canucks are now 0-for-25 on the power play in their last five road losses, clearly Vancouver isn't getting the job done when special teams are lifeless.

The Canucks were 0-for-5 on the power play.

Vancouver's penalty killing wasn't much better as it gave up two goals on six attempts; the final two St. Louis goals were scored while up a man.

The Blues also netted a shorthanded marker to round out just a bad special teams effort by the Canucks.
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