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The right direction

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
To the pessimists out there, the Vancouver Canucks blew a two-goal lead before eventually falling to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a shootout.

The optimists choose another path and target the fact that the Canucks battled back from down a pair of scores to even the game and force overtime and a shootout.

Both sides are ultimately right, but this argument is easily put to rest by focusing on the point the Canucks earned in the 6-5 shootout loss, their first in five games.

For a team that has now lost seven of its past eight games and has only two wins in 2009, that lone point is equivalent to a short breath of fresh air after leaving a smoky club.

“You have to take this game in the right way,” said Steve Bernier, one of five Canucks to beat Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason.

“We didn’t get the two points, but there are a lot of games left and if we play this way for the rest of the season, we’re going to have more chances to win.”

Unlike the past four games in which Vancouver had gone from bad to worse to abysmal to whatever is worse than abysmal, the Canucks looked primed to finally win a game on home ice and solve the Blue Jackets, a team they had already lost to twice this season.

Off goals from Taylor Pyatt, Mats Sundin and Bernier, Vancouver was comfortably up 3-1 with time ticking down towards the end of the second period.

After 37 minutes of outplaying the Jackets, the Canucks fell asleep at the wheel for less than two minutes and the teams went into intermission even at 3-3.

Two more minutes of lackluster play had Vancouver down by a pair of goals early in the third before Henrik Sedin and Kevin Bieksa scored to even things up again, this time at 5-5.

After overtime solved nothing, Kyle Wellwood and Sundin were both stopped in the shootout, while Jason Williams and Rick Nash beat Roberto Luongo to seal Vancouver’s fate.

A big point slipped through the fingers of the Canucks, but the drive and determination the team displayed in battling back in the third period makes this loss a little easier to swallow.

“We battled hard for 65 minutes, if we play like that every night, we’ll definitely get the results in the future,” said Luongo, who made 23 saves in his second game back.

“It’s a tough one because we lost, but at the same time I think this is the battle level that we want every night.”

Nobody was hanging their head after this game, every player spoke highly of the team’s effort and there was even a little pride from a few skaters who are now confident that the end of this slide is near.

“I think we have all the players here to be a playoff team and be a good team that can go far in the playoffs, but saying that I think we did some good things tonight and we need to keep doing that,” said Sundin, after his sixth and best game with the Canucks.

“I thought we worked hard, I thought we had a good effort, I thought we played better in our own end, even though we gave up six goals, we did a lot of good things. We’ll keep that work ethic and we’ll keep getting better in our own end as a team and we all play better defensively, we’ll have a chance to win next game.”

The lack of stellar play on the defensive side of things has been a major blemish for the Canucks over the past five games as they’ve given up 24 goals in that short stretch.

What makes matters worse is that everyone seems to be chipping in with untimely inept plays that cost the team at the end of the night.

No reason to point fingers, Alain Vigneault just wants to fix it.

“Our defensive breakdowns are due to one component right now and it’s our puck management,” said Vigneault. “Our decisions with the puck are putting us in trouble, whether that be the Ds or sometimes the forwards not making that right decision.”

That was clearly the negative from this loss to the Blue Jackets, yet Vigneault sides with the optimists regarding his team’s play on this night.

“Our guys are battling. They score four goals in a row and we could have folded there, our guys didn’t fold, they tried to come back.

“Mats is getting better, we all know Roberto can play better, key ingredients to the success of our team, and we’ve got another game here before the all-star break so we’ll get ready for it.”

The Canucks had best be prepared for their next opponents as the team heads into San Jose to play the Sharks on Tuesday. Yep, those same Sharks that spanked the Canucks 5-0 in late December and have only six regulation losses this season.

“It’s going to be a tough game in a really tough building, but if we play the same way and just take care of the details, it’s cliché but right now we have to do those things and if we do, good things are going to happen,” said Bernier.

To the pessimists San Jose is a death trap, while the optimists see it as a golden opportunity, one the Canucks will seize before the all-star break.

0 – Wins for the Canucks on this five-game homestand (0-4-1)

2 – Goals for Mats Sundin with the Canucks, he scored in the second period

– Losses to Columbus this season, Vancouver is 0-2-1

100 – Career points for Willie Mitchell, he had an assist on Vancouver's fifth goal

3,000 – Games in franchise history for the Canucks

Vancouver's offence torched Steve Mason for five goals, that's the most he's given up all season.

Twelve different players recorded at least a point in this balanced attack, one that saw the Canucks build a lead and come back from a deficit.

Taylor Pyatt had his best game of the season skating alongside the twins, the trio was a force all night.

Vancouver outshot Columbus 30-28.

With 24 goals against in the last five games, it's clear the defence needs to tighten things up.

Coach Vigneault said smarter decisions need to be made by the puck carriers to avoid turnovers, and he's dead on.

Vancouver's last line of defence, Roberto Luongo, was better in this game than his first, but he's still far from his typical all-star form.

He'll get there, it'll just take some time.

Each team netted a PPG; Columbus was 1-for-2, while Vancouver went 1-for-4.

Fans were pleading with the Canucks to SHOOT THE PUCK on a few occasions, but they were quick to cheer when the Canucks killed off a lengthy 4-on-3 for the Blue Jackets.
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