Sweatt, recalled Sunday from the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, played the hero by scoring the game-winning goal as the Vancouver Canucks downed the Nashville Predators 2-1 Wednesday night at Rogers Arena.
Even before Sweatt was sent out for the pre-game warm-up all alone, unknowingly doing a lap around the ice with the Canucks laughing in the tunnel, a chant of “Rudy, Rudy, Rudy” was heard coming from the locker room.
Sweatt lived up to the nickname with 7:29 to play in the third period of a game deadlocked a 1-1. After Daniel Sedin lost the puck breaking into the Nashville zone, Alex Burrows – Vancouver’s other goal-scorer – created a turnover at the blueline by checking Joel Ward. That sprang the puck free to Daniel, who was heading away from Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne. He turned on a dime and hit Sweatt as he machined his way down the right wing.
What happened next was no Sweatt.
“It was a great pass, an absolutely great pass and all I did was shoot the puck and it just happened to go in,” smiled the defenceman post-game, surrounded by a swarm of reporters.
“I never would have expected it, I was just happy to get on the ice and just really happy to be here. It’s just icing on the cake with a cherry on top.”
Sweatt scoring his first career goal, first career game-winning goal and picking up his first career point in his first career game on his first career shot helped the Canucks win their second straight game and surge into the all-star break with a 15-point cushion in the Northwest Division.
For the first 30 minutes of Vancouver’s first meeting of the season with Nashville, it looked as though the Predators would continue their climb up the Western Conference standings. Nashville outshot Vancouver 12-4 in the opening period and dominated early parts of the second frame before the Canucks came to life.
Nashville pressed on in the third hoping for its 14th one-goal win of the year and the Predators made a case for themselves 37 seconds into the period when Shea Weber beat Roberto Luongo to open the scoring.
That sparked the Canucks and midway through the third Burrows cleaned up the rebound off a Dan Hamhuis shot to tie the game at 1-1 and set the stage for Rudy.
The 25-year-old, who became the 10th Canucks d-man to dress on the backend for Vancouver this season, said he dreamt of the day he’d score his first NHL goal, but even after puck met twine, Sweatt couldn’t believe his eyes.
“I was really surprised it went in,” said Sweatt, game-winning puck in hand. “I looked at it and it was in the net and that’s why I had a very delayed celebration, I just didn’t know what to do, it kind of caught me off guard. It was great and it caught me by surprise, but sometimes that happens.”
That happens as the result of hardwork, which every player in the room credited Sweatt with bringing on this night.
Not to be overlooked is Luongo, who stopped 26 shots in his eighth straight win; he remains unbeaten in regulation in his last 17 starts going 12-0-5.
Luongo more than earned his 23rd victory of the season and his performance can be summed up in one save on Joel Ward with 28 seconds left in the third.
With Rinne on the bench, Martin Erat let a shot fly from the slot that hit Ward, who spun and whistled the puck along the ice and ever so close to the goaline before Luongo’s left pad attacked it like a Rottweiler on a steak.
“I didn’t really see the puck, I just saw the motion of the player and I just extended my leg and I was able to get a piece of it there with my skate,” said Luongo, adding that he expected this type of game from Nashville.
“In the first period we didn’t play as well as we wanted to, but it was a tight-checking game, the Predators don’t give up much and they’re involved in a lot of low scoring games, so it was a matter of making the least amount of mistakes tonight.”
The Canucks faced Shane O’Brien for the first time since he left Vancouver and although O’Brien and Alex Burrows hinted at playing each other tough on the ice, nothing extra curricular came of it; with an assist on Lee Sweatt’s goal, Daniel Sedin extended his point streak to five games; a Nashville win Wednesday would have marked just the sixth time in club history the Predators have posted double-figure wins in a month.