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Flashy Firsts

by Kyle Harland / Vancouver Canucks
 The way the Canucks stormed out of the gate on Tuesday night, it looked like nothing would stop them from snuffing the Flames.

But things started to look different in the second and third, and the Canucks eventually fell 3-2, losing for the first time in regulation this season after holding a lead going into the third period.

It was a surprising loss, after a dynamite first period showed promise of a blowout against their division rivals.

The Canucks outshot their opponents 21-7 on their way to building a 2-0 lead in those first 20 minutes, and there could have been more without the strong play of Miikka Kiprusoff between the pipes.

But after the intermission, the Flames responded by outshooting the Canucks 33-13 over the next two periods, which earned them a 3-2 win.

The first period dominance that the Canucks enjoyed against the Flames was nothing new for the Vancouver team. It had echoes of a recent win against Nashville earlier this month, when the Canucks outshot the Predators 24-9 in the first. In that game, they used that first period to build a 4-2 lead on the way to a 6-2 victory.

The first period fury has continued for the Canucks through most of the month of March. In the last five games, they’ve peppered the opponents with 68 shots in the opening frame, averaging nearly 14 shots per game in that period. It’s led them to outscore their opponent 7-2 in the first 20 minutes over that stretch.

Admittedly, the second and third periods haven’t been as exhilarating as the firsts.

In those same last five games, the Canucks have put 41 and 35 shots at the net in the second and third periods respectively, an average of about eight shots in the second and seven shots in the third per game. The scoring has been relatively even in those frames as well; the Canucks have been outscored 4-3 in the seconds and 4-4 in the thirds over those last five.

Of course, there may not be a need to be as flashy as the first if they can carry leads in the second and third. In fact, out of their last 10 intermissions over those five games, the Canucks have only been down once – against Minnesota last Friday, 1-0 in the second intermission. It was a game they would go on to lose 2-1.

Playing with a lead is the Canucks’ forte. So even when the Calgary Flames stormed back and outshot them 18-3 in the second period, it was hard to imagine the Canucks losing because they still held a 2-1 lead heading into the third period. And, their record was 26-0-1 entering the third period, meaning that they win 96 percent of the time in that situation.

Unfortunately, Calgary managed to prove the unfortunate saying of, “there’s a first time for everything,” handing the Canucks their first regulation loss while carrying a lead into the third period, Vancouver’s 76th game into the 82 game season.

Calgary got a huge boost with a slew of power plays in the third, including a pair of 5-on-3s that allowed them back into the game. Without that help, it would have been far more difficult a streak to break.

While it was a tough loss to Calgary, the first period performance was encouraging for a team whose success depends largely on who takes the early lead, and who’s able to hold onto it into the third.

The Canucks did both of those against Calgary, but the Flames became the only team this season to figure out how to surmount the Canucks in regulation when those leads are created.

1st – regulation loss all season for the Canucks when leading after two periods

12 – seconds separating the Canucks’ two goals

41 – seconds separating the Flames’ last two goals

25 – straight starts for Roberto Luongo

200 – career NHL games played by Alex Burrows

The Canucks offense was furious in the first with 21 shots, but went into hibernation in the second period, sucking the momentum out of it for the third. After the first period, Calgary’s physical game seemed to push the Canucks offense off stride.

Great in the first, but as the game went on, Calgary became more and more aggressive on the puck and the body. At times the defense seemed rushed and not as cool and collected as they look normally.

As it is with most games, special teams were the difference. After two early goals – including one on the power play – the Canucks had ample opportunity to put the game away with ensuing power plays in the first period, but they finished 1-for-5.

Calgary made the most of their advantages in the third, scoring on back-to-back power plays to snatch the lead away from the Canucks. They finished 2-for-7.
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