The Canucks bullied their way into Minnesota Friday night and pillaged two points from the Wild in a 2-1 road win.
The victory vaults Vancouver back into top spot in the Northwest Division.
Maybe the sky isn’t falling on the West Coast after all.
This was a huge win for the Canucks as they now have a chance to salvage their season-high seven-game road trip, but it was even bigger for a pair of Moose whose antlers were sharp on this night.
Goaltender Cory Schneider
turned aside 16 shots for his first career NHL win, while forward Jason Jaffray potted the deciding goal, the second game-winner of his pro career.
A few weeks ago this duo was down on the farm helping Manitoba upend the Toronto Marlies; Schneider made 33 saves for the win and Jaffray recorded a hat trick.
Not discrediting that performance, but doing it in the big leagues is a different story.
Schneider started out the game he’ll never forget with arguably his biggest save of the night, and it came less than a minute and a half in to the first period.
With Willie Mitchell riding pine in the box for interference, Minnesota’s second ranked power play went to work swarming Schneider. The first shot the 22-year-old faced resulted in a whammy of a save; Schneider went from left to right to rob Brent Burns on a one-timer.
It was just what the kid, and the Canucks, needed.
“I think that was a confidence builder for the whole group,” coach Alain Vigneault said.
“For Cory to step in there and get those first couple of saves early gave him a lot of confidence, but it also rubbed off on the rest of the group that he was ready and he played a really strong game. I think the whole group followed suit at both ends of the rink real hard.”
Inspired by some stability between the pipes, the Canucks responded with a power play goal with 6:05 to play in the first.
The Sedins combined to set up Kevin Bieksa
for a blast from just inside the Minnesota blueline; Bieksa had his fifth of the campaign and Vancouver had its first lead of the game.
The Canucks were playing like a squad in danger of losing five-straight for the first time in almost a decade and they closed out the opening period with a 1-0 lead having outshot the Wild 14-3.
The urgency that Vancouver didn’t have in Detroit was readily available in Minnesota through 20 minutes of play.
“It was huge, compared to [Wednesday] night it was night and day,” said Schneider.
“They had three shots in the first so obviously we came out ready to play, I can’t give them enough credit for helping me out tonight.”
Vancouver’s meticulous defence continued in the second as the Wild were limited to just seven shots. One got through Schneider after he and Mattias Ohlund’s ran into each other just at the edge of the crease, but there were no more major slip-ups after that.
The third period saw Minnesota fire another seven shots on net as Vancouver battened down the hatches and made a conscious effort to be better in their own end.
“They kept it real simple in the d-zone, guys were coming back, supporting, getting pucks out; we never really gave them a chance to set up and sustain any offence,” said Schneider.
“We took a lot of pride in our defence and that was one thing we needed to work on and we did.”
With the defence on lockdown, Vancouver’s offence needed a spark and Jaffray, playing on the fourth line with Jannik Hansen
and Darcy Hordichuk, was there to provide it.
Three minutes into the second period, Hordichuk stole the puck from Minnesota’s Pierre-Marc Bouchard near centre ice. He dished it to Hansen, the Danish Delight then left a drop pass for Jaffray who was trailing him closely. From there Jaffs made scoring on Niklas Backstrom look easy.
Jaffray’s seemingly harmless wrister escaped Backstrom’s glove and went in – it may have deflected off Kim Johnsson and in – either way the Canucks had a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“We’ve been struggling here the last few games and I know when you get on a little bit of a skid you just have to keep it basic and that’s what we did tonight,” said Jaffray.
“With my line with Hansen and Hordichuk that’s exactly what we did. We kept it basic and tried to create energy for the team and we were lucky enough to pot one.”
Thanks to Jaffray’s goal and Schneider’s consistency, the Canucks now have 15 wins on the season and three against the Wild.
This was the fourth of seven straight on the road for Vancouver, with another divisional game, this time in Colorado, on the horizon for Sunday.
They may only have one win in their last five games, but the Canucks now have something to build on.
“This was a fun game to be a part of and I thought we played much better than we have lately,” said Willie Mitchell, who battled with Derek Boogaard all night long.
“Do we have more? Yes, but it’s a good start to kind of get back on track.”