Shootout before the real shootout: Five goals in third period turn up the excite-o-meter, but Canucks can't beat Wild
Gordon McIntyre reviews the Canucks shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild:
Who would have thought a shootout would erupt between the Vancouver Canucks and Minnesota Wild?
And we're not talking about the one that took 65 minutes to get to, before Mikko Koivu scored the deciding goal in a 5-4 Minnesota win on Thursday night at GM Place.
The teams erupted for five goals in the third period, with rookie defenceman Alex Edler leading the way with two goals and an assist, as the Canucks tried to become the first team since Edmonton in December 2006 to come back and beat Minnesota when the Wild led after two periods.
"We're showing more confidence when we're playing from behind," said the snake-bit Taylor Pyatt, who almost made it 1-1 after 20 minutes only to see his sweeping backhand beat Niklas Backstrom but bounce off the post with nine seconds left in the first.
Stephane Veilleux, who hadn't scored in 33 games, put the Wild up 2-0 with first- and second-period goals before Alex Burrows' backhand at the net went in off Brad Isbister to make it 2-1 heading into the third.
The Wild aren't bad when scoring first -- a league-best 28-3-1 -- but they're deadly when leading after two, winners of 44 straight now.
So after the offence broke out in the third between teams that usually vie with paint drying on the excite-o-meter, the Canucks emerged with a point against the stingiest of teams and weren't hanging their heads.
"Morale's OK," Markus Naslund said. "We know we need to win.
"I think we'll pull it off. I think we have the group to get it done."
Shots were hard to come by and three goals, two by Minnesota and Isbister's, were fluky redirects.
"The first two periods were really tight and we didn't throw enough pucks at the net," Naslund said. "I think that's the type of game we're going to be facing now."
After pulling ahead 3-2 on Edler's first goal, a point shot 16 seconds after he assisted on Ryan Kesler
's tying goal at 2:00 of the third, the Canucks couldn't hold the lead.
Brent Burns' point shot glanced off Matt Cooke's shaft and over Roberto Luongo
's shoulder two seconds after Henrik Sedin
stepped out of the penalty box. Then Marian Gaborik split Willie Mitchell and Sami Salo
and beat Luongo low to move Minnesota back ahead 4-3 at 12:21.
It took Edler's second goal, a wrister from the top of the circle after Sedin won the draw at 17:16 of the third to force overtime.
"Obviously, we need to win games here," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said, pointing out the team has collected points in five of its past six games. "That being said, our guys battled hard. For two periods we didn't give that team a lot.
"Slowly but surely we're turning the corner."
Trevor Linden improved to 5-for-9 in shootouts while Brent Burns also scored in the shootout for the Wild.
Bieksa back at practice
Matthew Sekeres said although Kevin Bieksa
participated in team practice Thursday monrning, it will still be some time before he can jump into the line-up:
The Vancouver Canucks' season has been distinguished by ailing defencemen, and none of them suffered a more serious injury, or has missed more time, than Kevin Bieksa
The third-year defenceman has been out for 45 games, including Vancouver's home contest against the Minnesota Wild Thursday night, with a lacerated calf that stood as the NHL's most gruesome moment in 2007-08 until Richard Zednik of the Florida Panthers suffered a severed artery in his neck last week.
But times are improving for Bieksa, who led Vancouver blueliners with 42 points last season.
He skated with teammates for the first time Thursday morning and is inching closer to a return.
Head coach Alain Vigneault hopes he is ready by the end of February, saying he was encouraged by the player's progress, but Bieksa would not specify a date.
“It was kind of uncharted waters with my injury,” he said after a 20-minute skate. “Nobody knew from prior experience when I should be playing or when I shouldn't be. Roughly, I am ahead of schedule, but I'm still not playing.”
Bieksa, who returned to the ice on Feb. 2, but did not join teammates until yesterday, could be sent down to the Manitoba Moose of the AHL for a conditioning stint before rejoining the Canucks.
The native of Grimsby, Ont., said he still needs to build up strength in the leg and requires some full-speed practices with more drills, but that his conditioning should not be a problem. He added that the team's equipment staff has fashioned a pad that he will wear to protect the cut on the back of his calf.
“I was a little nervous to get out there today for practice, but the more I do it, the better I will feel,” Bieksa said.
Bieksa, 26, has been out since Nov. 1, when he suffered the injury against the Nashville Predators.
Time's running out for Canucks
Iain MacIntyre said the Canucks are losing their identity and doing so can cost them their season:
They were the safest bet since roses at Valentine's. Since the start of last season, the Minnesota Wild were 49-1-1 when leading after two periods. In other words, they had frittered away three of the last 104 points when their noses were in front with 20 minutes to go.
Yet, there were the Vancouver Canucks Thursday, beating the odds and beating the Wild, leading 3-2 halfway through the third period after trailing 2-1.
But the odds made a comeback, and so did the Wild.
Minnesota scored twice, lost their lead again when Alex Edler scored with 2:44 remaining in the third period, but won 5-4 when Brent Burns and Mikko Koivu badly fooled Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo
in the shootout.
In October, that unlikely point salvaged by the Canucks in the third period would have been a moral victory. But it did nothing for morale on Thursday.
Down went the Canucks again in a critical game. Down went any good chance at defending their Northwest Division championship. And with it, down went the third playoff seed in the Western Conference. Down went the rare momentum generated by the Canucks' dramatic win Sunday against Chicago. Down, incrementally, went the Canucks' playoff hopes.
If Vancouver still possesses anything resembling an A-game, now would be a good time to display it because time is running out.
Minnesota leads Vancouver by six points with 24 games to go. And the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche are between the Wild and Canucks in the Northwest.
The last-place Edmonton Oilers trail the Canucks by only five points and visit Vancouver on Saturday. At this point, there is a greater likelihood of the Canucks finishing fifth -- and missing the playoffs -- than first.
Vancouver hasn't found a way to elevate its play in big games.
The Canucks haven't beaten a Western Conference team holding a playoff spot since the calendar changed 6 1/2 weeks ago.
In their six wins in six weeks -- and the bad news is Vancouver has filled its quota for this week -- the Canucks have beaten three teams from the Eastern Conference and won three times against teams behind them in the West.
That's bad for the playoff race and the draft lottery.
Thursday's game was another chance squandered.
After the Oilers, the Canucks get a rematch against the Wild Tuesday in Minnesota. Vancouver has another critical game Thursday in Nashville, then plays Detroit and Colorado.
The Canucks can not make the playoffs in the next five games, but they sure as heck can play their way out of them.
Vancouver has 15 games in March, 10 of them on the road, three of them back-to-back. If the Canucks are four or six points out at the end of February, likely with three or four teams to pass, you can make plans for April knowing evenings here will be uncluttered by the Stanley Cup playoffs.
There is something missing from the Canucks right now, and it isn't a second-line centre or another healthy defenceman. Vancouver seemed able to win games down the stretch last year on will. The Canucks won because they believed they would, believed they should.
They look merely like they're hoping to win these days.
Alex Burrows is playing like he believes, but who else?
The Canucks looked destined for the playoffs last season. They appear destined to miss them this time.
This is a team built for 2-1 games. But in the last month, their losses have included five 4-3 scores and last night's 5-4. The Canucks don't look like the Canucks. Argue all you like about their style when they were playing -- and mostly winning -- those 2-1 games, but losing their identity is a terrible thing.
It could cost them the season.
"Tonight, I can't fault our performance," veteran Trevor Linden said after scoring the only Canuck goal in the shootout. "Having said that, it's all about results. There is no question these are important points, and we've got these guys again next Tuesday. We've got to find a way to win despite some hard luck or whatever. We've got to find a way through that."