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Leading the charge

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
It is believed that on any given night, the most any player has possession of the puck in a hockey game is one minute.

Think about it: quick passes + quick shots = low time of possession.

That being said, Ryan Kesler made the most of his 60 seconds with the biscuit against the Minnesota Wild.

Kesler was indisputably Vancouver’s best player on this night; the third line forward was a man possessed as he tried to raise the Canucks from the dead.

With the home side down 2-0 early in the second period and the Canucks on the power play, Kesler took a long stretch pass from Mattias Ohlund and jetted in on Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom.

He had speed on his side having taken the pass at the Minnesota blueline so there was no stopping the grinder. Mikko Koivu gave chase but didn’t have the wheels, which left Martin Skoula to shut him down.

Mission impossible that proved to be as Kesler turned his back to the defender as he rifled a backhand shot on goal. Backstrom got a pad on the puck, yet it maintained its course for the back of the net going off Kesler and over the blueline.

A team desperate for a goal, desperate for a win, desperate for anything, had found its spark.

“He played a very good game for us and we followed him, he was our leader tonight,” said Steve Bernier.

“He’s a player with a lot of speed and tonight he showed that. He’s got speed and he’s able to use it to score goals and to create momentum for us, his first goal was that exactly.”

Kesler’s 10th goal of the season was the beginning of a drastic turnarond for the Canucks, who once again were lifeless in the opening period falling behind early to the Wild.

Vancouver outshot Minnesota 13-10 in the middle frame and forced Backstrom to play some of his best hockey in recent memory. Kesler tested him twice more with sick dangles before the period was through.

The final frame was one dominated by the Canucks and it began with an Alex Edler score to even things up at 2-2 just 3:03 in.

They continued peppering the Wild with shots after that, with the Sedins and Taylor Pyatt drawing iron midway through the period.

That uneasy CLANK off Backstrom’s right post proved costly as Minnesota turned it into the go-ahead goal when they retaliated on offence.

Tension ran high throughout GM Place after that and with the clock working against the Canucks, it looked as though the writing was on the wall for another home loss.

Cue Kesler.

With Brent Burns in the penalty box and Roberto Luongo on the bench, Sami Salo let a rocket fly from the point. It was tipped in front and the puck bounced to the man of the hour with Kesler there to roof it.

He fell as he let his seventh shot of the game fly and after the puck went in, celebrated on his knees by throwing his arms to the sky.

With only 16 seconds left on the clock, Kesler’s timing was impeccable.

The same cannot be said for the way the game ended.

Daniel Sedin was assessed a hooking penalty less than a minute into overtime and Marc-Andre Bergeron made him pay with the game-winner in a 4-3 Wild win.

Just like that, Kesler’s heroics and a solid overall game by the Canucks were flushed away.

“I didn’t think that last one was a penalty against Danny, but that’s the ref's call and he has a say in the game and he obviously had a say in this game,” said Kesler.

“We really thought we had this one and the way we played tonight, we gave up a couple early but we definitely clawed back in it and showed a lot of character.

“It was a strong effort from everybody tonight from the goaltender out, I thought everybody picked their game up and really showed that they want to win and they care about this team.”

Kesler was the reason the Canucks earned a single point, their third single in the last four games, but his play wasn’t enough to stop the bleeding.

Despite taking an even bigger step towards resembling the Canucks team everyone expects, Vancouver lost again and has now dropped eight straight games, nine on home ice, while wrapping up January with a 2-5-5 record.

There’s still no acceptable answer for why this team is struggling so badly, but Willie Mitchell is convinced that more efforts like this will go a long way in ending this tirade.

“If we keep doing what we did tonight and sharpen up on a few plays, you’ve got to keep pushing on that door," said Mitchell.

"Right now that door is shut on us and we’ve got to keep pushing and pushing and pushing until it finally opens on you and that’s what we’re going to do as a group.”

0 – Wins for the Canucks in their last eight games overall

0 – Wins for the Canucks in their last nine home games

– Goals for Ryan Kesler, he now has 11 on the year

14 – Losses for Vancouver when giving up a power play goal (10-14-6)

40 – Shots for the Canucks, 17 in the third period

After a weak opening period, the Canucks responded with an inspired effort on offence for the rest of the game.

Led by Ryan Kesler, the offence torched the Wild for 30 shots in the final forty minutes, producing three goals.

The top line buzzed all night but was unable to produce, a goal from them would have made the difference on this night.

Vancouver outshot Minnesota 40-27.

Roberto Luongo is back, but he still isn't back.

At least two of the four goals should have been stopped by the all-star netminder, he can't seem to put together a full 60 minute effort these days.

The boys in front of him were better, but still gave the offensively challenged Wild too many chances, which they capitalized on.

Penalties were a major negative for the Canucks, they took one early and one late and paid for both.

The Wild went 2-for-5 on the power play, they scored the opening goal and the game-winner with Vancouver players in the box. That can't happen.

Vancouver was respectably 2-for-4 overall, but botched a chance to take charge of the game early in the second with a five minute power play.
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