VANCOUVER -- Rookie defenseman Alex Biega got a phone call on Sunday night that he had been called up from the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League by the Vancouver Canucks.
Biega arrived in Vancouver at early Monday morning and joined the Canucks for the morning skate a few hours later, but he didn't find out he would be making his NHL debut against the Minnesota Wild that night until three hours before the game.
Maybe that was a good thing, because a few hours later Biega scored the game-winning goal.
The 26-year-old defenseman scored with 8:06 left to help the Canucks defeat Minnesota 3-2 at Rogers Arena.
"It was a blessing in disguise that I didn't have time to think about the game; I just went out there and performed," said Biega, a Harvard University graduate who played 313 AHL games over the past five seasons. "It was a lot of blood and tears and sweat have been poured into the years in the American League. The emotions going through my head right now are indescribable. It's a great experience."
Bo Horvat scored the go-ahead goal 1:33 into the third period. Biega, who got into the game only after Christopher Tanev was a late scratch, beat Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk through the legs with a screened one-timer from the point to make it 3-1 with some help from Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin.
"The Sedins held the puck and there was a great screen in front," Biega said. "Good things happen when you put it on the net."
It became the winning goal when Wild forward Nino Niederreiter scored his second of the game with 6:25 left. Despite a couple of great chances, it wasn't enough to prevent Minnesota (28-21-7) from losing in regulation for the first time in almost a month.
Eddie Lack made 19 saves, including three during a scramble in the final minute. Henrik Sedin also scored for the Canucks (32-21-3), who have won three of their past four games to move into a second-place tie with the Calgary Flames in the Pacific Division.
It also put Vancouver four points ahead of the Wild, who are three points out of the second Western Conference wild-card spot.
"For us to get that win, especially on guys creeping up like that on us in the standings, it was huge," said Horvat, a 19-year-old center who has three goals and five points in his past six games. "A couple close calls at the end, but we battled hard. We fought for every last inch."
Lack needed all of those inches late. Niederreiter chipped a shot from the slot in off his right shoulder to make it 3-2. But with Dubnyk on the bench for an extra attacker, Lack made a trio of huge saves in the final 30 seconds to preserve the win, robbing defenseman Matt Dumba, and Jason Pomminville twice from point-blank range. On an 8-0-1 run since the All-Star break, the Wild expected to tie it late.
"I can't believe we didn't to be honest," coach Mike Yeo said. "We did everything we were supposed to do as far as generating shots and chances and bodies around the net. We just didn't finish."
Dubnyk made 26 saves in his career-high 14th straight start, but lost in regulation for the second time since being acquired by Minnesota in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 14. Dubnyk was 10-1-1 with the Wild, and 8-0-1 since the All-Star break.
"We weren't going to win 28 straight games to finish the season, so we'll get right back at it in Calgary (on Wednesday)," Dubnyk said.
The Wild's goalie was upset after Biega's goal, taking issue with Alexandre Burrows contacting him in the crease and celebrating after.
"My stick was between his legs so when the shot came and I got to bring my stick over to save it, it's hitting his leg and so it goes in," Dubnyk said. "I don't know, I pushed into the shot and he came into me. Again, I have to watch the replay, not really sure what warranted the celebration in my face after though. I don't know what I did to him. I guess it's the way he wants to do it. It was disappointing."
So was losing ground in the playoff race, but Yeo insisted it didn't hurt more because the Canucks were without top-two defensemen Tanev and Alexander Edler.
"I knew it was going to be a tight-checking game," Yeo said. "There's a lot of hockey left. I said this before; if we won this game it doesn't mean we're in the playoffs, if we lose it doesn't mean we are out of it. There's a lot of season and a lot of hockey left."
The Canucks are sure how much of it they will have to play without Tanev and Edler, who were injured during a 3-2 loss in Calgary on Saturday. That meant Yannick Weber went from being a healthy scratch 10 of the past 16 games to the top pairing. Biega got into the game after Tanev, who finished the game Saturday and took part in the morning skate, was a late scratch.
It was a long time coming for Biega, who was picked by the Buffalo Sabres in the fifth round of the 2006 NHL Draft and spent four-and-a-half seasons in the AHL before finally getting into an NHL game.
"In the American League there are lots of ups and downs mentally and physically," said Biegsa, a Montreal native. "I just had the belief if I got the opportunity I would seize it."