It's no surprise that it was Alex Burrows who scored the game-winner midway through the third - a "character" player and an Alain Vigneault favourite. Burrows, along with frequent linemate Ryan Kesler
, possess that intangible quality that Dave Nonis finds irresistible, and their teammates find infectious.
That quality might not propel players to 50-goal seasons, but it does get you through the tight times, and that's what it did Thursday night when the pressure sank in.
The win was just Vancouver’s second of the season when trailing after two periods. It was also the first regulation road victory for the Canucks since December 12 against Anaheim and allowed the team to salvage its four-game road trip with a .500 record (1-1-2).
Coming off a great effort in Tuesday night’s shootout loss to Dallas, Vancouver was flat out of the gate in Atlanta and appeared listless for much of the opening forty minutes.
But with their season seemingly on the line, it was a different Vancouver team in the final frame. The Canucks finally found their sense of urgency. “I think it was a must-win,” said Luongo. “We’re all looking at the standings and, you know, we’re a couple of points behind so we talked about it before the game and, you know, we wanted to finish off a .500 road trip and we needed a big effort from everybody tonight and I think that’s what we got.”
When asked what the difference was in the third, Burrows had a simple answer.
“Just hard work, I think,” said Burrows. “We knew it was a big game and we wanted those two points to have a .500 road trip and we wanted to find a way to win tonight. I think right off the bat [in the third period] we had a few good shifts with the twins and a big powerplay goal and we found a way to get it done tonight.”
The few good shifts a modest Burrows referenced actually began with his own line. Burrows, Ryan Kesler
, and Taylor Pyatt pinned the Thrashers in their own end for the period’s opening thirty seconds while Kesler registered two good scoring chances from the circle.
Next over the boards were the Sedins and Markus Naslund. As they worked the cycle game, Mattias Ohlund pinched all the way down to the goal line. A centering pass for Naslund failed to click, but the Canucks looked dangerous and they looked determined. The tide had officially shifted.
Naslund and the Sedins drew a hooking penalty on Alexei Zhitnik less than four minutes later, then capitalized on the powerplay when Ohlund found Daniel alone at the side of the net. Daniel redirected the Ohlund feed past Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen to tie things up 6:32 into the third.
Less than five minutes later, Burrows took a pass from Pyatt as he cruised through the slot and lifted a backhander past Lehtonen to make it 2-1 Vancouver. Lehtonen had fallen down to the ice trying to draw a penalty after taking a high stick. Unfortunately for the Thrashers, that stick belong to Atlanta’s Eric Perrin.
The Thrashers, however, wouldn’t go quietly into the night.
Luongo made a big save on Marian Hossa from in tight with six minutes to play.
He was even better with just under two minutes to go, as former Canuck Steve McCarthy crept off the blue line and fired a quick one timer that Luongo sprawled to keep out.
And with just two seconds on the clock, the puck found the one Thrasher Canucks players didn’t want it to reach: Ilya Kovalchuk.
As Kovalchuk moved in on Luongo, Ohlund made a brilliant play and stuck out his left foot to kick the puck off Kovalchuk’s stick as the buzzer sounded.
With the rest of the Northwest Division, not to mention the Western Conference, refusing to lose on most nights, another Vancouver defeat against a lame-duck opponent would have been demoralizing, if not crippling.
The Canucks realized this.
They refused to let it happen.