When push came to shove Tuesday night against the Flames, the streaking Canucks brought the thunder and stormed out of Calgary with a massive 4-3 shootout win.
The February edition of the Canucks, unlike the January product, is rejuvenated, resilient and relentless in its attempt to win games and that was on full-display as Vancouver overcame two Calgary leads for its 29th victory of the season.
Short on drama this game was not as Kevin Bieksa
scored with 51 seconds remaining in the third period to tie things up at 3-3, before Pavol Demitra beat Miikka Kiprusoff in the shootout to cap another improbable late comeback by the Canucks.
“I don’t think we had our best first two periods, but we stuck with it, we got an ugly one, as they call it, and we found a way to win,” said Bieksa, who’s game-tying goal came off a blast from the point that somehow made its way through a gaggle of traffic in front of the net.
The Canucks were able to find a way to win and conquer their fear of shootouts thanks in large part to two men, each who could do no wrong on this night. Ryan Kesler
, the former grinder turned sniper, got the party started for Vancouver with a shorthanded goal scored with only 16 ticks left on the clock in the opening 20 minutes.
The most unlikely of players was serving a penalty while Kesler scored, none other than former nice guy Kyle Wellwood. He got the stick up on Dion Phaneuf in the Calgary zone and was sent to the box for high-sticking, which marked his first trip to the sin bin since April 11, 2006.
A 160th penalty free game wasn’t in the stars for Wellwood, but it worked out fine with Alex Burrows getting an awkward shot away from the right side of the Flames goal that Kesler cleaned up the rebound on.
“I didn’t have much, I think Kipper really came out on me and I just wanted to get it on net and you never know what can happen and Kes was right there to jump on that rebound,” said Burrows about his 15th assist of the season.
Calgary simply couldn’t contain Kesler as late in the second he put the Canucks in front with a determined individual effort that saw him stopped on a shot in tight on Kiprusoff, only to stay with the floating puck and bat it out of the air with the precision of a bomb diffuser.
His ninth goal in eight games and 18th of the season was as refined as they come and although Calgary evened the score at 2-2 before the second intermission, Kesler made it clear that Vancouver was not going to be denied in the final period.
“We want to get our division title and it starts with this game,” said Kesler.
“It’s an important game for us and we’ve got to make these guys worried about us and those first two periods weren’t good enough, we’re going to have a better effort in the third.” Roberto Luongo
brought forth that better effort in the final frame – with the exception of a weak goal that put the Flames in front 3-2 – helping seal Vancouver’s sixth win in seven games.
Not that Luongo wasn’t on his game in the opening two periods, but any questions that the Canucks captain isn’t back to his old self were answered with his swooping glove save on David Moss with the Flames looking for an insurance goal late in the third and his calculated pad stop on Adrian Aucoin off an odd-man Calgary rush with 25 seconds to play in overtime.
Roberto was certainly Luongo-eske in making 38 saves in regulation and three in the shootout to collect his sixth consecutive win.
Luongo wasn’t the only netminder leaving players frustrated as the Canucks were foiled by Kiprusoff 40 times, including a stop that could easily end up being the sparkler of the season by any NHL goalie.
Midway through the third period, with Vancouver on the power play trailing 3-2, Bieksa rifled a shot towards the goal from the Calgary blueline. The puck was tipped in front and ended up on the tape of Wellwood who was rooted to the right of Kiprusoff.
The yawning cage was almost mocking Wellwood as there was literally nowhere to put the puck but in the net.
He let a quick shot go, but thankfully his arms didn’t fly directly in the air to celebrate as Kipper dove across the paint to knock the puck out of midair with the paddle of his stick.
As a standing ovation materialized, the refs went upstairs to ensure that their eyes weren’t deceiving them and alas, they were not.
Somehow Kiprusoff made the improbable save, much to the disappoint of the Canucks and especially Wellwood, who has now gone 13 games without scoring and seems to have the luck of someone who won the lottery but threw away the golden ticket.
“All I saw was Welly with the wide open net there and he’s a great goalie and he made a great save,” said Bieksa, adding that Vancouver could have rolled over then and there, but didn’t.
“It’s all the credit to us for sticking with it after he makes a big save like that and coming back and getting one late.”
A two big points to open this four-game swing means the Canucks move back into fifth place in the Western Conference standings, one point in front of the Dallas Stars and eight back of the Flames for the division lead.