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Playoff payoff

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
And you thought the Western Conference quarterfinals showdown between Vancouver and Dallas three seasons ago was intense.

The Canucks and Stars have faced off quite a few times since that epic seven games series, but no games have really come close to matching the heated battle that series featured.

On this night both teams were back in playoff mode and as a result there were highlight reel hits, saves and goals; in the end Vancouver had more of all three in a 4-2 win.

This game had the make of a playoff clash right from puck drop when another packed house at GM Place jumped all over Dallas netminder Marty Turco with some drawn out taunts.

On the ice a first period power play goal by Daniel Sedin got the ball rolling for the Canucks offensively, but when Stars pest Steve Ott took a run at Pavol Demitra midway through the period, the rough stuff began turning this into a do-or-die seventh game.

“After that hit on Pavol we really started to play physical and play hard and it felt like playoff hockey a little bit,” said Alex Burrows, who failed to find the scoresheet for the first time in five games.

“Fans were chanting Turco and it reminded me of some good memories of a couple years back, but at the same time, we played well, played hard for 60 and found a way to get it done.”

Although the teams finished tied in hits at 19 apiece, the Canucks led 12-8 after 20 minutes and that set the tone for a physical second period, which opened the door for some sparkling play upfront for Vancouver.

Ryan Kesler scored his nicest goal of the season, an absolute peach, 6:55 into the middle frame when the RPM line came together at the Dallas blueline.

Mats Sundin got the puck to Demitra, who then hit Kesler as he flew down centre ice, in a near three on one rush Kesler undressed Stéphane Robidas and Trevor Daley on his way to a backhand shot that nibbled the net top shelf.

It was a clutch goal considering the Stars were carrying most of the momentum at that point and that score went a long way in waking the Canucks up from the second period nap they were taking.

Less than four minutes later Sundin one-timed a perfectly placed cross-crease pass from Kyle Wellwood on the power play to double Vancouver’s lead and put the Canucks up by two goals for the third time in three games.

The problem is that in the previous two contests both Los Angeles and Colorado fought their way back into the game to make it close, and although Dallas cut the lead to 3-2 8:12 into the third, another gorgeous Canucks goal wrapped up the win, Vancouver’s 10th consecutive on home ice.

It’s rare that words can’t do a goal justice, but this is one of those instances.

The play that fans will be mesmerized by for weeks to come started when Mason Raymond blocked a Nicklas Grossman point shot, Raymond then passed to Wellwood who carried the puck into the Dallas end.

The spurt of hot potato that ensued was perfection: Wellwood hit Kevin Bieksa up the middle, he one-timed it to Raymond at his left, who then re-directed the puck to Steve Bernier and he one-timed it in to the left of Turco.

Tic-tac-toe at its finest led to gold at the end of the rainbow for the Canucks.

“That was some kind of goal,” said Burrows. “I don’t know if they get much prettier than that. Kes scored a beauty tonight and it was important for him to score that goal because of where the game was, but the Bernier one was great.”

A record 10th straight home win pushes Vancouver into a tie with Chicago in points at 83, although the Blackhawks have a game in-hand and are therefore still in fourth.

After the nine-game home winless skid the Canucks went through in January most people wrote off the team’s chances of climbing this high up the standings and any mention of a division title was laughable.

Is that Calgary I see only three points ahead of Vancouver for first in the Northwest Division?

“It’s hard not to [check the standings],” said Roberto Luongo, who stopped 24 shots for his 15th win in his last 18 starts.

“You try to take care of your business but you do glance at the standings once and while and we realize that we’re getting closer to those teams that are ahead of us, so we’ve just got to keep plugging away and we’ve got 13 games left and who knows what’s going to happen.”

If Vancouver keeps up its phenomenal play at home and can carry it over into success on the road, a lot is going to happen in terms of putting Chicago and Calgary in the rear view mirror, right where they belong.

2 – Power play goals for the Canucks (2-for-2)

2 Points for Mats Sundin; of his 20 points 16 have come at home

  7 – Straight wins for the Canucks on St. Patrick's Day

10 – Consecutive home wins for the Canucks

67 Vancouver's faceoff percentage, led by Sundin who was 6-for-7

All three lines contributed offensively in helping the Canucks down the Stars for the first time this season.

The Canucks also converted twice on the power play as upfront the team was firing on all cylinders.

Steve Bernier was a menace all night and he was rewarded for his offensive prowess with a goal on his sixth shot.

Vancouver outshot Dallas 26-25.

Eight of Vancouver's 19 hits were delivered from defenders as the boys on the blueline stepped it up physically.

Vancouver's defence was also very effective at taking away passing lanes making life easy for Roberto Luongo.

In his 15th win in 18 starts, Lui made the big saves when he had to and is becoming more trustworthy by the day in not allowing soft goals.

The Canucks took an undisciplined seven penalties, the good news is that this seems to be what the team's penalty killers needed to sharpen up.

Vancouver killed off six of the seven Dallas power plays and only allowed seven shots against.

The performance of the power play was also a success story with the Canucks going 2-for-2.
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