Two days since playing a game against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, where the Canucks looked weary and fatigued from the travel, they rebounded against the Oilers to perform in one of their better contests of the road trip. It was a perfect road game in every way, except for one thing: They didn’t win.
Everyone always says that the Canucks are a team who are built from the net out – built from franchise netminder Roberto Luongo
, out to a solid defensive strategy, and then taking care of putting the puck in the opponent’s net. It’s a strategy that’s suited particularly well to road games, and the Canucks showed how it was done against the Oilers.
Of course, there was a small glitch in the strategy. The Canucks didn’t have franchise cornerstone Luongo, who was out with his rib injury. But that didn’t change their tactics one bit. Curtis Sanford demonstrated once again how capable a backup he is, stopping 25 of 26 shots in his fourth consecutive start. In his past four games he’s been everything you can ask for of a backup thrown into a tough position. Sure, the game against the Sharks wasn’t good to him – but subtract that, and he has a .924 save percentage in his last three full games.
With Sanford in place – and he was at his best against the Oil – the next step in the team strategy is defense. That did its job and then some, as they were able to keep the Oilers to the outside, break up rushes with good coverage, and clear dangerous rebounds – of which there were a fair number. If you asked Curtis Sanford if he had to stop a rebound Saturday night, he might be hard pressed to give an example.
The formula kept the Oilers off the scoresheet for 57:29 before their leading scorer Shawn Horcoff potted his 16th of the year. Notorious for having trouble coming back from behind this season, many wrote the game off at that point for the Canucks.
But just over two minutes later, the Canucks got something else that is essential to their winning strategy – scoring from the blue line. Mattias Ohlund not only tied the game with his sixth of the season, he surpassed Jyrki Lumme on the Canucks’ all-time defense goal-scorers list with 84.
Everything was in the works for a great Canuck win. The backup goalie put on a Luongo-esque performance, the defense played tight, and Ohlund scored a milestone goal to tie the game in the final two minutes. The Writers Guild of America may still be on strike, but should the Canucks win this game, they’d have just created a fresh Hollywood script.
Overtime had the same intensity as the final minutes of the third, but the five minutes expired, giving way to the shootout, an Oiler specialty this year. After taking the early lead in the shootout, the Oilers did what the stats expected them to do. They handed the Canucks their fourth shootout loss of the year, and their shootout loss against Edmonton.
After Saturday’s victory, the Oilers have won 10 of their 16 games via the shootout. That’s as many games as any team won in the shootout all of last season. And the Oilers have 48 games to go. So the Canucks can’t be faulted for losing in the shootout.
Still, when Curtis Sanford skated behind the net and broke his stick over his knee, it showed how every Canuck fan probably felt after watching the game. A road game executed to perfection, with a late third period comeback thrown in as a bonus, and Fernando Pisani managed to squeeze one through Sanford to steal the win. Heartbreaking. And stick-breaking, for Sanford.
It looks pretty good that the Vancouver Canucks finished an arduous two-week travel schedule with a 3-3-2 record, compiling eight of a possible 16 points and holding on to the division lead. But with their strong play against the Oilers, it certainly wasn’t too much to ask for nine.