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All eyes on Sundin

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
One of the benefits of adding Mats Sundin to the Vancouver Canucks is that the team now has two solid scoring lines.

In theory, Pavol Demitra and Henrik and Daniel Sedin will continue to terrorize teams as the top unit, while Sundin will increase the production of Mason Raymond and Kyle Wellwood, leading to some much needed secondary scoring.

The Edmonton Oilers weren’t sure which line to focus in on Wednesday night and as luck would have it, Vancouver’s third line made the difference.

All eyes were on Sundin coming in, but it was another right-handed power forward that turned a drowsy game into a 4-2 win for the Canucks.

Steve Bernier had his third two-goal effort of the season and the eighth of his career, and also added an assist, to help buck his streak of 13 games without a goal.

Despite collecting seven assists in his last 10 games, coach Alain Vigneault recently called out Vancouver’s off-season acquisition for a lack of scoring.

It took Bernier 12 seconds to turn Vigneault’s frown upside down.

With the score even at 1-1 with under three minutes to play in the second period, Alex Burrows carried the puck into the Edmonton zone before dropping it for Ryan Kesler. He saw Bernier streaking down main street awaiting a one-timer and as Kesler hit him with a hard pass, Bernier wired it past Dwayne Roloson.

Right off the ensuing draw that line was at it again as Bernier and Burrows worked the puck in down low. Burrows ended up with it just behind Roloson’s left shoulder allowing Bernier to sneak in front before being sent a crisp pass, which he put into the empty net.

A smorgasbord of chances for Bernier led to his eighth and ninth goals of the season and it helped put a stranglehold on the Oilers.

“I’ve been missing a lot of those goals lately and that was very important for our line and for me to have something happen on the ice,” said Bernier.

With Vancouver clinging to a 3-2 lead at the midway point of the third, Bernier was in search of that elusive hat trick goal and he came within inches of adding a few new lids to his collection.

Bernier was battling for position in front of the Edmonton goal when he flicked a weak shot on net. It seemed to cruise towards the goal line in slow motion before grazing the left post and staying out.

“I saw the puck rolling and I saw it hit the post,” smiled Bernier, who has never recorded a hat trick.

“It’s something you think about after the game, but we finished with the two points and that’s the most important thing.”

Bernier’s quick two goals were three seconds off the Canucks all time record for the fastest two goals ever scored. Gerry O’Flaherty netted a pair in a span of only nine seconds in a 3-0 Vancouver win over Pat Quinn and the Atlanta Flames on March 15, 1974.

The success of Bernier and the third line – Kesler, Bernier and Burrows combined for eight points and the first three Vancouver goals – helped deflect the spotlight off Sundin who was making his Canucks debut.

Having not played an NHL game since March 29, 2008, Sundin wasn’t about to lead the team in ice time. He eased right in as expected with 15:02 played in 24 shifts.

He skated on Vancouver’s second line with Raymond and Wellwood and that combination of speed and familiarity helped the trio produce some chemistry. In the second period they were buzzing in the Edmonton end three or four times, trying to get Sundin his first point with the Canucks.

“It’s exciting and an honour to be skating out there with him,” said Raymond.

“We’re still learning out there and chatting on the bench and figuring out what we each want to do and stuff, but like I said it’s a lot of fun out there and hopefully we can keep it going and put some pucks in the net.”

Despite not registering a point, the Sundin show was a respectable one. None of his six shots found the net as four were blocked and two went wide, but he delivered one hit and was 50 per cent at the face-off dot.

“He did great,” assessed Burrows, who snapped his 12 game goalless drought in the first period.

“He’s a big body out there, he won some key face-offs and made a lot of smart little plays that are going to help our hockey team a lot and obviously once he gets a few games under his belt I think he’s going to be a force out there.”

Jason LaBarbera continues to be a force for the Canucks as he won his second game in four starts, having led Vancouver to six of a possible eight points since arriving almost two weeks ago.

He’s gaining comfort and confidence with each passing day.

“I’m still trying to get used to everything, but it’s been pretty good,” said LaBarbera, who made 23 saves against Edmonton. “It’s been exciting to be here and it’s been a fun ride so far.”

LaBarbera is still undefeated in regulation with a 2-0-2 record as a Canuck. It’s unclear whether he’ll start his fifth consecutive game during Sundin’s home debut on Friday night versus the St. Louis Blues, but he’ll be ready either way.

So will Sundin as all eyes will be on him once again.

0 – Points for Mats Sundin in his Canucks debut

– Goals for Steve Bernier, his third multi-goal game of the season

– Combined points for Bernier, Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler

15:02 – Ice time for Sundin, he played 24 shifts

23 – Saves for Jason LaBarbera, he is 2-0-2 in four starts

Steve Bernier and the third line picked a great game to break out as neither of Vancouver's top two lines had much going for them.

Bernier and company were a threat during every shift they took; they played smart, gritty hockey.

There was some chemistry for Mats Sundin with Mason Raymond and Kyle Wellwood. That line buzzed a little but couldn't put much offence together.

Vancouver was outshot by Edmonton 25-22.

Defensively the Canucks played a solid game, this was especially evident with Vancouver in the box for much of the opening period.

The Oilers weren't given much room to operate at any time and when they did get shots on goal, Jason LaBarbera had a clear view of what was going on allowing him to make 23 saves.

There's always room for improvement, even in a win, and Vancouver's power play is where it was needed on this night.

The Canucks went 0-for-4 with only two shots on net; one power play came early in the third when a goal would have sealed this game a lot earlier.

The Oilers were 1-for-4 with Robert Nilsson's second period goal - with Kevin Bieksa in the box - their lone tally.
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