The better news: the Canucks were able to win at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul for the first time in five games beating the Minnesota Wild 4-1.
The Wild, who had won nine of their last 11 games coming into this contest, could sneak their way into the playoffs as a sixth, seventh or eighth seed, and with the Canucks picking up points fast and furious tightening their grip on a top spot, the two could be destined to meet in April.
Considering that, this was definitely a monkey-off-the-back win for Vancouver.
“They made a point of it that we haven’t done well in this building and coach kind of laid it out to us that we had to find a way to be better, come prepared and there’s no excuses, so we’re a little short on the backend but everybody pitched in and we got some timely goal scoring,” said Cory Schneider, the game’s first star.
Back in the arena where he won his first NHL game on December 5, 2008, Schneider was back in full form demonstrating the sensational goaltending that had him 8-0-2 to start the season before dropping three of his last four starts.
Schneiderman truly channeled the superhero his moniker comes from as he collected 28 saves in his web to become the first Canucks backup to hit 10 wins since Peter Skudra went 10-8-2 back in 2001-02.
The netminder’s solid play was needed in the third period with Vancouver clinging to a 3-1 lead and forwards told to chip in as much as possible defensively. That equated to the Wild outshooting the Canucks 13-1, with Schneider stopping every last puck.
It wasn’t pretty on the shot clock, but it worked.
“We asked our forwards to come back and help out and take some pressure off our D because they’re playing a lot and they’re banged up,” explained Schneider. “That takes away from a lot of your offence when your forwards are trying to stay deep and play defensively.”
Manny Malhotra opened the scoring in the first period with a power play goal, his first road score of the season and first goal in 23 games, before Cal Clutterbuck beat Schneider from an awkward angle to even the game at 1-1 after the first.
Jannik Hansen found the back of the net for the second consecutive game to give the Canucks a 2-1 lead and Mikael Samuelsson continued his red-hot play with a goal 19 seconds before the end of the second.
In the third it was all Wild, all the time and even when the Canucks did mount a sizeable offensive attack, they couldn’t avoid the iron. Samuelsson and Mason Raymond rang pucks off the post and crossbar, then Samuelsson hit the side of the goal; Malhotra then had a look at the net on a 2-on-1 with Kevin Bieksa, but he couldn’t wrangle the puck. Alex Burrows came close to extending his point streak to 11 games on an empty net attempt late in the game, but he missed too.
Thank goodness for Ryan Kesler’s draw weight as he potted his 33rd goal of the season on Vancouver’s only shot of the third to help the Canucks avoid going without a shot in a period for the fifth time in franchise history and first time since the second period of a 4-1 win versus the Columbus Blue Jackets on October 21st, 2007.
The Canucks improve to 13-2-2 versus Northwest Division teams and 7-1-2 in the second half of back-to-back games.
Poor Yann Sauve couldn’t even legally have a beer after his first NHL game.
The 20-year-old defenceman made his Canucks debut in Vancouver’s 4-1 win over Minnesota with the game falling three days before his 21st birthday.
The celebration will have to wait until the 18th.
Sauve became the 13th player to make their debut with the Canucks this season and he was impressive in 12:16 of action, played mostly alongside Sami Salo.
Despite being recalled less than 24 hours prior to puck drop versus the Wild, Sauve still had plenty of time to be nervous.
“Yes, for sure,” said Sauve. “It’s your first NHL game and it was a good experience and I just tried to stay calm and keep it simple.
“It was a good game, I think the first period we played good, it was tied 1-1 so it was anybody’s game but I think we played well and it’s a good experience.”
To say Sauve’s season has been up and down would be an understatement as an injury in late September saw him spend time with the ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings before appearing in 20 contests with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
Playing his first NHL game erased all that pain and suffering for good.
“I’m happy and especially because I had to work hard to come back from the injury and get back in shape and play some good hockey and it’s a good experience to be here and I’m happy to be here.”
The Canucks are an NHL-best plus-24 in goals for and against in the first period; Ryan Kesler was in danger of not collecting a point for the third straight game for the first time since October 9-15th, 2010, but finished with a goal and an assist; the Wild outshot the Canucks 29-14, that’s just the seventh time this year Minnesota has outshot its opposition.