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Columbus calamity

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

No one would have blamed the Vancouver Canucks for packing their bags and heading home following the second period of their 4-2 loss in Columbus.

The Canucks had been out hit, out shot and out played by the Blue Jackets as the teams headed into the third period of play with Columbus leading 3-1.

Vancouver looked wounded and out of gas, this was their last game on a grueling six-game road trip so it's easy to understand why.

The final twenty minutes of play at Nationwide Arena surely wouldn't add up to much, odds of another come-back win were bleak at best, overall there wasn't much to play for, why exert the energy.

The answer to that is simple, the Canucks are a proud bunch and even though almost everything had gone wrong for them against the Blue Jackets through two periods, and on this road trip as a whole, they tightened their chin straps, gripped their sticks a little harder and displayed a brand of hockey in the third period that had the Columbus players shaking their heads in disbelief.

Vancouver played the third period with more ferocity and heart than they had in their previous four games combined. It started with an acrobatic save from Roberto Luongo five minutes into the frame, easily his nicest on the night, and that led to a Canucks goal with Kyle Wellwood and Kevin Bieksa hooking up to trim the Jackets' lead to 3-2.

"There are a couple of things that I think we could be better at for sure, it's nothing major, we just have to make sure we fine-tune a couple of things," said Luongo prior to the game. "I have to fine-tune a few things myself and we'll be fine."

That fine-tuning came in the second intermission and to begin the third it was unclear where the Canucks were getting their energy from, coffee, sugar, maybe they chugged a few dozen Red Bulls between periods. Regardless, the Canucks were back in this game and the Blue Jackets were in for a fight.

Vancouver finally wasn't having much trouble moving the puck into Columbus' zone, they were making the opposing defenders earn their paychecks with quick snap passes and their physicality was responsible for a sputtering Jackets' offence that was immensely out of rhythm.

All that stood between the Canucks and a tie game was Pascal Leclaire. He's only one man, but in the third period that man was a beast. Vancouver threw 12 shots his way as they applied carpeting pressure in the Columbus zone for minutes at a time, Leclaire didn't even blink.

With Steve Bernier on the doorstep to the right hammering away with his third goal of the year in sights, Leclaire shut the door. Bernier again, this time crushing his doormat on the left side of the net, Leclaire stretched and got his right pad in between the puck and a sure goal.

Twelve shots in the period, 12 quality scoring chances, 12 saves by Leclaire, who finished with 23 on the night. All this and the goaltender had sat out Columbus' prior game with a thumb injury on his right hand.

"They had a few power plays then I was able to make one or two good saves early in the third, that gave me a little bit of confidence and rhythm and after that we just kind of figured out how to close the game," said Leclaire, adding that in the third period the Sedins and Bernier were "tough to read, they're pretty good, they pass the puck really well."

Were it not for the singlehanded heroics of Leclaire in the third period, Vancouver would have tied the game and if the heat they were bringing continued in the late stages, they might have even won it.

Having been pounded by the Capitals, Sabres and Blackhawks all within the last eight days, the Canucks forced Leclaire to play one of the best periods of hockey of his career. If there's something to build on from this loss, Vancouver's third in a row, it's that.

No one would have blamed Vancouver if they would have packed their bags and headed home following the second period of this 4-2 loss, but they didn't and because of their inspired effort in the third period, the next three days off might not feel like torture any more.

There are problems to fix, even casual Canucks fans know that, yet a 2-4-0 record on a road trip that essentially got the ball rolling on their season is respectable. Especially when it finished the way it did.

The optimists have one take, the pessimists have another and the Vancouver coaching staff is probably stuck somewhere in the middle. The road wasn't kind to the Canucks over the last two weeks, luckily they're back home for two games starting Saturday when they host the Oilers.

There's still plenty of hockey left in this young season, we can only hope it's hockey that resembles the kamikaze approach the Canucks had in the third period against the Blue Jackets.

Points for Daniel Sedin in his last five games

– Power play goal for Vancouver against Columbus, their third of the season

– Upcoming home games for the Canucks before they hit the road again

4 – Game point streak for forward Ryan Kesler (2-2-4)

28 – Hits for the Canucks who had the Blue Jackets in their sights all night

Kyle Wellwood carried the bulk of the offence in his first game back with the Canucks, he scored the opening goal before assisting on Kevin Bieksa's first of the year.

The Sedins and Steve Bernier buzzed all night, but to no avail. The trio had 10 of Vancouver's 25 shots so they showed improvement over last game, they just couldn't beat Leclaire.

The Canucks played from behind again with the Jackets up 2-0 before this game was seven minutes old, so they were pinching up and taking chances for the rest of the game. Offensively they chipped in with eight shots on net, defensively they blocked four. Columbus' third goal of the game was iffy as a defender should have been on him, but it all goes back to taking chances while trailing.

Vancouver's 25th ranked penalty kill and 29th ranked power play weren't as bad on this night as their numbers on the season suggest.

The Canucks allowed one power play goal leaving the Blue Jackets at 1-for-4 on the night and besides that lone blemish, they killed each penalty off effectively.

Vancouver was also 1-for-4 on the power play, and if it weren't for the crafty work of Pascal Leclaire, they would have tied the game up on the PP late in the third.

Special teams haven't been a bright spot for the Canucks of late, but they weren't horrendous on this night.
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