THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Kesler comes through in overtime
Matthew Sekeres said the Canucks avoided a season-series sweep at the hands of the thirtieth placed LA Kings with a dramatic win Monday night:
In the first of a four-game road trip, Vancouver earned its third straight win, 2-1, before 14,653 at Staples Center.
"We just kind of found a way to win," Kesler said after scoring 46 seconds into overtime and with 2:41 left in regulation to tie the game. "I don't think we've played our best hockey against them but tonight I think we played pretty solid and they were still right there with us."
Trailing 1-0 after a third-period goal from Patrick O'Sullivan, the Canucks answered when Kesler banged home a rebound after the puck miraculously squeezed between two Kings in the crease.
Then, in overtime, Kesler deflected a Willie Mitchell point shot past Los Angeles goalie Dan Cloutier, who made 38 saves, and Vancouver avoided embarrassment. Roberto Luongo
needed to make just 17 shots in the Canucks' net.
"I was just praying, hoping something would happen and fortunately it did," Luongo said. "We stuck with it."
The Canucks now sit seventh in the conference having leapfrogged the Colorado Avalanche last night. Vancouver and Colorado have 80 points apiece, but the Canucks have played one less game and are two points behind the Calgary Flames for the Northwest Division lead. Vancouver has 13 games remaining, the same as Calgary. O'Sullivan scored at 8:27 of the third period on a beautiful pass from Dustin Brown and on sequence where Mitchell broke his stick. O'Sullivan roofed a shot over Luongo for the would-be winner.
Vancouver's record against the Kings was harkening memories of 2005-06, when the playoffs were missed in part due to a winless campaign against the bottom-feeding St. Louis Blues.
Worse than that, Vancouver lost defenceman Sami Salo
to back spasms on Monday. He will be re-evaluated Tuesday when the Canucks practise in Anaheim in advance of a Wednesday game against the Ducks.
Salo left in the second period, returned for the first shift of the third, then departed the bench-area for good.
Adding to the intrigue last night was a friend-turned-foe in the other net.
Cloutier, the former Canuck who was lightning rod for criticism during playoff exits earlier this decade, started in goal for Los Angeles, playing just his seventh game of a season. He has spent time in the minor leagues and on leave while rehabilitating a surgically-repaired hip.
The youthful Kings are hardly without talent, but they lack experience, lack defence and have been the worst team in the West by far. Consider: the Kings are in 15th place, a full eight points behind St. Louis and having played two more games than the 14th place Blues. Going into games Monday, the Kings were surrendering 3.29 goals per game, one of only two teams in the conference to allow more than three goals per game (Edmonton, 3.01).
That was only one element in Vancouver's favour last night. The other was the return of a would-be key forward.
Centre Brendan Morrison, who skipped the morning skate, was a game-time decision, and wasn't certain to dress until taking the pre-game skate. After the warm up, Morrison declared his injured right wrist fit and played his first game since Dec. 10 — exactly three months ago and in the same building where he left the team for nearly half a season. Morrison was forced to undergo surgery after that game against the Kings, but he returned last night, playing mostly on the fourth-line and getting some power-play time. He missed 37 games in all, but was eased back into the lineup last night in 8:03 of ice-time.
Kesler, Burrows take turns as hero: Just-returned Morrison pays tribute to the chemistry between them
Jason Botchford said the checking-duo took back-to-back turns leading the Canucks to victory:
They have become the Canucks' difference makers, their very own Ghostbusters.
They are the do-it-all duo who have shown a knack for late-game heroics, taking turns leading and sparking the Canucks.
On Saturday, it was Burrows who played the hero. On Monday, it Kesler's turn.
With the Canucks haunted by a ghost, on the verge of losing 1-0 to Dan Cloutier, Kesler picked up a Burrows rebound with 2:41 left and did something the rest of the Canucks could not. He beat Cloutier.
"I told Kes right before we scored to be ready, I told him I was going to shoot from everywhere, and I did," Burrows said. "We felt it coming. We were on the ice for the [Kings'] goal and we really wanted to make up for it. Kes made a great play being strong in front of the net. We are having a lot of fun together on the ice right now."
Their opponents are not. Kesler finished the job with an overtime goal on a similar play that gave the Canucks an important 2-1 win, saving them the embarrassment of being swept by what is arguably the NHL's worst team.
Before the season, Kesler expressed a desire to be more of a leader this year. It was moments like Monday's two-goal performance he was talking about.
"The way I wanted to be a leader is going out every game and working hard," Kesler said. "To lead by example. And I guess a good way to be a leader is to score two goals, yeah."
Brendan Morrison, playing his first game since Dec. 10, said one of the biggest differences in the team since he last played is the chemistry between Burrows and Kesler.
"They've been playing phenomenal," Morrison said. "It's great for our team and comes at a time when some of our guys, the goal scorers, aren't scoring as much as they'd like. These guys are picking up the slack. When a team can do that, it adds another element until we're firing on all cylinders here."
So, with their recent production, are Kesler and Burrows the checking line or a scoring line?
"We're a checking line first, a scoring line second," Kesler said.
Morrison returns to lineup after missing 38 games
Jason Botchford said the return of Brendan Morrison occurred in the same arena that witnessed his exit three months ago:
Three months to the day he faced the harsh reality he couldn't play anymore, Brendan Morrison made his return to the Canucks lineup on Monday night.
Morrison shook off nagging fears his surgically repaired wrist wasn't ready and played about a week earlier than most people expected.
The last obstacle he had to overcome was a mental one. He was concerned how his wrist would respond to NHL combat, especially in the defensive zone.
"It was more a mental thing than anything, just knowing in my mind it is healed and the chance of re-injuring the wrist is small," said Morrison, who missed 38 games. "It's knowing and believing I can trust it. ... Range of motion and strength are the base issues."
Morrison's declaration he was ready came as a surprise to Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, who was vowing to ease Morrison into the lineup slowly.
By coincidence, Morrison's first game back came in the same rink where he last played. On Dec. 10, in a 4-2 loss to the Kings, Morrison watched helplessly as Derek Armstrong beat him and scored a goal to put L.A. up 3-1. Morrison didn't have enough strength to even lift Armstrong's stick.
He met with assistant general manager Steve Tambellini after the game and finally made the decision to have surgery.
Shannon speaks through play: Trying to make best of opportunity by scoring
Jason Botchford said Ryan Shannon is earning his roster spot with every performance and every point:
Ryan Shannon doesn't have the look of a player out of his league, the odd man out whose time in the NHL is ticking down because of Brendan Morrison's return.
In two weeks, he has played well enough to alter his destiny, and the look of the Vancouver Canucks, by seizing his latest NHL opportunity, showing he can provide some answers in the never-ending search for secondary scoring.
He has recently been one of the Canucks most productive and most overlooked forwards. In an 11-game stretch entering Monday, he produced nine points while averaging 12:50 in per-game ice time. It's close to how he envisioned his year after an encouraging training camp and preseason.
"I had very high expectations about how my season was going to go," Shannon said. "I went to training camp wanting to prove that I can be a scoring forward. There's been ups and downs. Now, this is my second window of opportunity and I have to seize it." Shannon understands his job isn't secure. He started Monday on the fourth line. A few Canucks losses in a short period of time and he's a top candidate to be cut from Vancouver's bloated forward contingency.
Morrison's return leaves Canucks coach Alain Vigneault with an intriguing conundrum. Just a month ago Vigneault wouldn't consider icing a team with Morrison, Raymond and Shannon all in the lineup. The fear was the Canucks would be too small, too easy to play against. Things have possibly changed. He indicated he is now open to giving the smaller, faster, more skilled lineup a chance.
"I think Mason and Ryan have improved a lot since the beginning of the year," Vigneault said. "We'll see how they do and we'll take it game by game."
It's difficult for Shannon to out-play the stigma that he's too small. He started off the season a minus-7 and was an easy scapegoat. But since his return last month, Shannon is a plus-6 and has shown some jam, proving he may not be as big a defensive liability as many people believed.
Where Shannon has had the most impact is on the power play. It could be coincidence, but the Sedin twins, while lined with Shannon, have never looked better moving the puck, creating chances with a man-advantage than they did in wins against Nashville and St. Louis.
"It's different playing with them -- it's a more simple role, but it's more precise," Shannon said. "It's a lot of fun and we're creating a lot of chances. It's my job to contribute."