In his first appearance in goal since being traded to Vancouver from Los Angeles 48 hours ago, LaBarbera, still donning Kings equipment, recorded 31 saves to push the Canucks to a 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators.
For the Burnaby native, who has been bounced around between teams like an errant ping-pong ball since his junior days, simply landing a roster spot with Vancouver was a dream come true.
The 28-year-old is now living in a fantasyland after winning his first game with his new crew.
“Last night I didn’t sleep,” joked LaBarbera, whose last start came on Dec. 19 in Buffalo as a member of the Kings.
“Today I almost wish I would have had a heart monitor on, I was probably at 150-160 all day, my heart was in my throat the whole day. I was excited to play, as cheesy as it sounds it was a dream of mine to play for the Canucks and it was pretty cool tonight to get that win.”
The Predators made it easy on the newcomer in the first period as they tested him with only five shots, four of which would have struggled to enter an empty net.
Nashville, still peeved at being beaten down by Vancouver already twice this season, cranked up the heat in the second period with 17 shots. One found its way in, but only because Alex Edler ran into LaBarbera preventing him from making the save on Rich Peverley's second goal of the season.
No Canucks got in his way in the third and when Vancouver needed its newest cast member to put it into overdrive, LaBarbera did just that.
The scorekeepers counted 10 more saves for him in the third, although it felt like he was pickled with 50 in the final minutes with the Preds up 6-on-4 as Mattias Ohlund was in the box and Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne was on the bench for the extra man.
It was water off a duck’s back for LaBarbera, he had been waiting his entire life to tend twine in Vancouver and he wasn’t about to leave without the game puck.
“I felt good, that was probably the best I’ve felt all year, which is a nice change for me,” LaBarbera said.
“The guys did an unbelievable job in front of me clearing pucks and I could see the puck well so guys did a good job and it made my job a lot easier, especially in the third period when I was cramping up there.”
The Canucks held on for the win thanks to LaBarbera, but his efforts would have been wasted were it not for the late game heroics of Jason Jaffray.
With less than five minutes to play and the score knotted at 1-1, the Canucks were pressing for the go-ahead goal with Greg De Vries in the box for holding. The perfect scoring opportunity wasn’t presenting itself so just as time expired on the power play, Willie Mitchell knuckled a puck on net from the blueline.
Sometimes it’s rudimentary: put the puck on net and the majority of the time something will come of it. Jaffray proved that as while running a screen on Rinne, the puck hit him and deflected in.
The goal was originally credited to Mitchell and that was just fine with Jaffray, it was the game-winner regardless of whose it was.
“Me and Willie are both battling for that second goal of the year so I didn’t want to say anything,” laughed Jaffray, who now has three game winning goals in 30 NHL games.
“We had a lot of opportunities tonight, to get one where I’m just kind of providing a screen and it goes off you, it’s nice to get those.”
Mitchell was far from up in arms over earning an assist rather than netting the game-winner, he was too busy gushing over the play of LaBarbera to care.
“He played great, he’s a big man in there and he covers a lot of net,” said Mitchell, whose assist, combined with Mattias Ohlund first period goal, which was assisted by Edler, gives Vancouver’s defencemen seven points in the last four games.
“No one is Roberto Luongo
, but [LaBarbera] sure looks big in there, he looks strong stopping the first shot and he played terrific for us tonight."
Even with the Canucks up late and Nashville pushing to send the game to overtime, Mitchell was confident Vancouver would seal the deal and he’s proud of the fact that no one lost their cool.
“These are games we’re comfortable in, we like to play, we enjoy and it wasn’t our best hockey game out there tonight, but Jason played excellent and gave us a chance and that’s what you want from your goaltender.”
From someone who has idealized the Canucks for a long time, this might be the type of performance the team gets on a consistent basis from LaBarbera.
“It’s exciting to be part of a winning organization like this,” said LaBarbera.
“LA is an up and coming team but for whatever reason I wasn’t in their plans and to come here and to get one like that is huge. I’ve just got to build off that and keep getting better and give this change to win every night because they’re a good hockey team.”
A good team that just got a little better.