VANCOUVER – Cory Schneider has backstopped the Vancouver Canucks into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
They might want to rely on him less once the postseason begins.
Schneider made 21 of his 33 saves in the third period and overtime, then turned aside Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Damien Brunner in the shootout to lift the Canucks to a 2-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
Maxim Lapierre scored in the third round of the shootout, coming in really slow and making a handful of dekes before roofing a backhand high over the blocker of a sprawled Jimmy Howard.
But the real story was Schneider, who then stuffed Brunner's five-hole attempt at the other end to secure the win – and a playoff berth for the Canucks.
"We have to be better, we know that," Lapierre said, "But tonight was a big game by Cory again. He's a great goaltender, made the big saves when it was time and our team responded well for the first game back after a long road trip."
Alexander Edler scored the other goal on a power play as the Canucks, coming off a five-game road trip, won for just the second time in five games to move six points ahead of the Minnesota Wild atop the Northwest Division.
"It's nice to finally get that check mark," Schneider said. "You're never in until you're in. This Western Conference is so competitive, and it seems like everyone wants to win it and everyone goes on a run at some point. So to get into the playoffs is our first goal and, hopefully, we can go a step further now and clinch our division. So we're just going to try to put our heads down and keep going."
After generating two shots in the third period, there are still things to work on.
"No excuses," said Lapierre. "We know what we have to improve."
The only thing the Red Wings need to improve is their finish. Detroit had a handful of great chances while outshooting Vancouver 17-2 in the third period. But the Wings couldn't beat Schneider, who dove across to rob Justin Abdelkader on a rebound, stopped Gustav Nyquist three times – one tip and two rebounds – on a power play and robbed Johan Franzen on a 2-on-1 in the final minute.
"He made some great saves against some great players," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "Obviously, he was our best player tonight."
Cory Emmerton scored the lone goal, and Howard made 13 saves before the shootout for the Red Wings, who are 1-2-3 as they attempt to extend their streak of playoff appearances to 22 seasons. Detroit did move into sole possession of ninth place in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Dallas Stars, but is still one back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final playoff spot.
Columbus only has three games remaining, while Detroit and Dallas each have four games left, including one against each other.
"There is no time for us to feel sorry for us," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "We are where we are at. We just have to dig down, try and stay positive and play with a lot of desperation and urgency. I thought we did a lot of good things tonight. We just have to stick with the program. No time for feeling sorry for ourselves whatsoever. We have to stick to the program and go work hard out there."
Detroit scored 13 goals while winning the first two meetings with the Canucks this season, but only had 13 shots after two periods Saturday. The Wings more than made up for it over the final 25 minutes, but Datsyuk was the only one who could put a puck behind Schneider, and it rang
off the crossbar.
Asked if his team deserved a better fate, coach Mike Babcock said, "I'm not into analyzing that stuff. The bottom line is we didn't get the second point we'd like to have got. I thought our team had good process, played well and was organized. We weren't rewarded with the second point. That's part of life. Get on with it."
They will do so back in Detroit against the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday – three of their final four games are at home – but without fourth-line forward Drew Miller, who broke his right hand in the first period.
"We have an opportunity to look after business," Babcock said. "We have to find a way to score more goals."
Edler opened the scoring at the tail end of consecutive power plays that included a failed 5-on-3 for 47 seconds, one timing a shot from the left point that got through Howard's legs before he could get his pads sealed to the ice.
The Red Wings tied it with 20.6 seconds left in the first when Brunner intercepted a clearing attempt around the boards and fired a quick shot from the edge of the right faceoff circle that Emmerton tipped under Schneider's glove.
While neither was busy, Schneider and Howard both made tough saves early. Schneider threw out the left pad to rob Franzen on a rebound in tight eight minutes into the game, forced Daniel Cleary wide on a clear breakaway from the blue line in with seven minutes left in the first period, and got pieces of shots by Abdelkader and Nyqvist walking in untouched off the boards.
The Canucks, who lost defenseman Keith Ballard to a back injury early in the third period, only had seven shots in the first half of the game, but they included a pair of Alexandre Burrows breakaways.
Howard, whose two puck handling miscues led to goals in a tough 3-2 loss to the Calgary Flames on Wednesday, forced Burrows to lose the puck and tripped him up on a shorthanded dash late in the first period, and denied him with the left pad on a quick deke on another partial break midway through the second.
"It felt like a playoff game with the lack of space on the ice," Burrows said. "It was tight checking, there's not a lot you can do in the neutral zone, you always have a guy behind you looking to pick your pocket and the D-man has a tight gap and it felt like a playoff game so we're getting ready to play playoff hockey."
They just might want to play less of it in their own end.
"We'll be better," Burrows said. "We'll be fine."