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Finding the Line

by Sunny Dhillon / Vancouver Canucks

It was touted as Vancouver’s first game all season with its top six defensemen healthy and dressed. Unfortunately for the Canucks, it might take a little bit more time for that defense to start firing on all cylinders.

Vancouver blew a two-goal third period lead, then gave up the winner just over a minute into overtime as the Columbus Blue Jackets stormed back and stole two points by upending the Canucks 3-2 Friday night at General Motors Place.

It was the second consecutive game in which Vancouver blew a third period lead and walked away with only one point. On Wednesday, the Canucks gave up a goal to Colorado’s Joe Sakic with just 15 seconds to play. The Avalanche went on to win the game in the shootout.

“We had a two-goal lead and you have to make high percentage plays,” said Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault. “[Columbus] really clogs up the middle well. They do a good job with their [defensemen] staying up in our zone and their [defensemen] staying up at the blue line. So what you have to do is you have to stay high percentage there. I thought the first goal was a little bit fluky there on their part there.”

That goal might remind Canucks fans of one Chicago’s Cam Barker scored at GM Place on February 10. In that game, Barker flipped a shot at the net that went off Taylor Pyatt, jumped ten feet in the air and landed behind Roberto Luongo.

On Friday, it was Dick Tarnstrom playing the role of Barker. His wrister from the point went off teammate Andrew Murray – who was battling with Kevin Bieksa in front of the net – deflected over Luongo and landed in the yawning cage, just beyond the reach of a helpless Willie Mitchell.

It was the beginning of a very tough night for Bieksa and Mitchell in particular.

Jason Chimera, who scored the overtime winner, said the first goal was the kick-start Columbus needed.

“That one kind of lucky one that squeaked through the point there, that got the momentum going a little for us,” said Chimera.

While Vancouver’s bench boss chalked up the first goal to bad luck, Vigneault said the second was simply a poor decision by Mitchell.

“We didn’t make the high percentage play at their line and paid for it.”

Instead of dumping the puck in at the Columbus blue line, Mitchell tried to slide a pass across to partner Bieksa. The puck deflected off a Blue Jacket skate and went right to Rick Nash who broke in all alone on Luongo. He deked to the backhand and went top shelf to tie things up at two.

“I looked up and [Luongo] was out a bit far,” said Nash. “He’s obviously one of the best goalies in the league and it’s tough to beat him on the breakaway. You don’t see much of the net shooting, so I tried to get him to come across and lucky enough it worked.”

Mitchell and Bieksa, who were on the ice for all three Columbus goals, were next victimized by Chimera in overtime. The Blue Jacket winger sped by Bieksa and cut for the front of the net. Linemate Nikolai Zherdev put a pass right onto Chimera’s stick and he deflected it past Luongo for the winner. The goal left Bieksa slamming his stick down against the ice.

“[Tarnstrom] made a good pass coming out of the zone. He made a drop pass to [Zherdev] coming out,” said Chimera. “I just went to the net hard and [Zherdev] made a great pass to me in front of the net and I just kind of redirected it home.”

While Mitchell and Bieksa, who played together for much of last season, undoubtedly had a tough night, their coach was willing to cut the duo a little bit of slack.

“Well, you know, obviously they were on for three goals against,” said Vigneault. “But I am not going to jump all over Kevin Bieksa. I mean, for him to come back so quickly from that injury, I’m definitely going to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s a hard competitor and I think he’s going to learn from tonight and we’re all going to learn from tonight. We have no choice. We’re in a playoff race and we have to win the next game.”

While Vancouver’s defense struggled for the final 21 minutes Friday night, it showed flashes of the shut-down hockey the Canucks will have to play from here on out. They kept Columbus to the outside and made sure Roberto Luongo had no trouble seeing the puck.

Now all Vancouver’s top six must do is keep up that effort for a fully sixty minutes.  

0 – Points in the last two games for Naslund and the Sedins.

4 – Hits for Matt Pettinger in his second game as a Canuck to lead all skaters.

6-1-5 – Record for Vancouver in the month of February.

7 – Points in seven games for Ryan Shannon, who scored the first Vancouver goal.

23-0-1 – Record for Vancouver when leading after two periods.

An up and down night. The offense gave Vancouver a two-goal lead but when the Canucks had numerous chances to break Columbus’ back with a third tally, they wasted them.

Also an up and down night. They looked strong through two, but third period and overtime breakdowns cost Vancouver an extra point.

The PP failed to click for the second straight night and is zero for its last 11. The PK was only called to action three times but had its second consecutive blank sheet. The Canucks have now killed off 13 penalties in a row.
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