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Slump busters

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Alain Vigneault is certainly no stranger to line juggling.

Players have been swapped between lines this season like hockey cards being dealt during recess back in the day; I’ll give you Taylor Pyatt and Mats Sundin for Mason Raymond and Pavol Demitra.

Attempting to spark something, anything, from Sundin and Demitra, and looking to take advantage of the stellar play of Ryan Kesler, Vigneault had that trio together for the first time Thursday night with the Canucks hosting the Carolina Hurricanes.

What a move, what a payoff.

Removing Kesler from his checking linemate Alex Burrows was a gutsy call to say the least, one that brought Vigneault’s sanity into question, but in Vancouver’s 4-3 win over Carolina, the dynamic duo were fine on their own.

Kesler had a goal and two assists, while Burrows finished the game with a goal for the ages.

With the score tied at 3-3 with less than three minutes to play and Mattias Ohlund in the box for hooking, the script was written for another gut wrenching Canucks loss.

Seven of the team’s last eight games were lost with a Vancouver player in the sin bin while the winning goal was scored. Understandably, knuckles were white throughout GM Place and hordes of fans were having trouble breathing.

That’s when Kesler and Burrows, despite being split up for the night, came together to end one of the ugliest losing streaks in franchise history.

On a clearing attempt on the penalty kill, Kesler chipped the puck past Joni Pitkanen and right to Burrows who had pinched up and was waiting with his tongue out at centre ice.

He ripped down the left wing in a fit of rage, forcing Cam Ward into his butterfly before he roofed the puck top shelf on the backhand – his signature move.

“I like coming down that side when I go to my go-to move and I think everybody in the building knew I was going to do that,” smiled Burrows, who now has three shorthanded goals on the season.

Everyone except Ward, apparently, who then, alongside everyone else in the house, witnessed a symbolic celebration from Burrows.

He dropped to one knee as he flew towards the Vancouver bench, slamming his stick against his leg; Burrows said he was “smashing the streak,” inspired by some Pittsburgh Steelers hoopla he saw during the Super Bowl.

“I saw James Harrison [do something like that] on Sunday. It looked so good, so it was a little treat for the boys and they like it, they like to give it to me when I do celebrations like that.”

“I don’t know about Burr’s celebration, but it was a good goal,” smirked Kesler.

Scoring a shorthanded goal in the last few minutes of play to end a traitorous streak makes about as much sense as how the Canucks found themselves in such a downward spiral in the first place.

It’s fair to say the plot of LOST is easier to explain than why the Canucks had been unable to pull the trigger on a victory. Nothing needs to be clarified from this night.

The line of Kesler, Sundin and Demitra combined for six points (2-4-6) and were stealthily dangerous every time they toured the ice.

“I thought that line got better as the game went on,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault.

“Hopefully those guys will form the chemistry for that line to be effective for us. I think it’s a matter of Mats getting his game to where he can get it, it’s a matter of Pavol staying hungry and competing hard and their right winger [Kesler] comes to play every night, so hopefully we’ll get something going with those three guys.”

For the second straight game, Kesler was the catalyst of Vancouver’s offensive punch, but for the first time since joining the Canucks, Sundin stepped up to the plate and played Barry Bonds.

He drew the second assist on Kesler’s first goal of the game, which put the Canucks up 2-0 12:41 into the opening period, before haulting the Carolina flurry that had them score a pair of goals in 25 seconds midway through the second.

After Sundin gained possession of the puck behind the Hurricanes goal, he swung out and tried to sneak a backhand shot past Ward on the left side. There was nothing doing there, so Sundin tried the other side, swinging to Ward’s right post and wrapping the puck in.

“It’s always nice when you get to score a goal, but saying that obviously the win was the great thing and hopefully our line can keep creating chances and getting scoring chances and hopefully we’ll get better from here,” said Sundin, who added that he was blown away by Burrows’ goal.

“What a great goal, Burrows’ goal was an amazing goal. It seems like when things are not going great it takes a goal like that almost to get out of the funk, so hopefully we can build on that.”

It’s too bad the Canucks can’t turn around and host another team Wednesday night to build off this win, they’ll have to wait until the Chicago Blackhawks are in town on Saturday to try and start a different kind of streak.

Still, the monkey, or massive gorilla, is off Vancouver's back and that will do wonders for the team going forward.

5 – Points in the last five games for the Canucks

  7 – Points between Ryan Kesler, Pavol Demitra and Mats Sundin on this night

11 - Wins for the Canucks this season when a defenceman scores a goal, Kevin Bieksa had Vancouver's opening score

– Saves for Roberto Luongo, he won his 12th game of the season

71 – Vancouver's face-off percentage, the highest of the season

Who would have thought splitting up Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows would result in such an explosive offensive punch from the Canucks.

Both players were dynamite on this night; Kesler had three points (1-2-3), while Burrows scored the shorthanded game-winner.

Pavol Demitra, fresh off the IR, and Mats Sundin, still trying to find his game, both had a pair of points.

Vancouver was outshot by Carolina 27-24.

There were gafs, most notably giving up a pair of goals in 25 seconds, but overall the D was solid.

Kevin Bieksa chipped in with a goal; the backend combined for four hits and 13 blocks.

Roberto Luongo earned his first win since returning from injury, a 24 save performance.

As improbable as it was, Burrows is known for his flair shorthanded and it helped the Canucks snap the streak on this night.

After special teams play killed the Canucks over the last few weeks late in games, it was refreshing to see Vancouver take advantage of it.

The Canucks were 1-for-4 on the power play with five shots; the Hurricanes went 2-for-4 with six shots.
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