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Canucks continue dominance of Flames

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- New season, same dominance by the Vancouver Canucks against the Calgary Flames.

But it was a pair of new faces that paved the way for Vancouver.

Radim Vrbata scored the game-winner and Ryan Miller made 23 saves to lead the Canucks to a season-opening 4-2 win against the Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday, making Willie Desjardins a winner in his NHL coaching debut.

"It's real nice," Miller said. "It was a little anxious leading up to these games just because, you know, you start somewhere new you want to get off on the right foot. I thought it was a good team effort. Guys worked hard, got pucks to the net on those goals and really deserved to get pucks behind the line there. It was fun.

"We feel like it's important to contribute immediately."

The Canucks swept the five-game series with Calgary last season and have won eight in a row against the Flames, including five straight on the road. Neither Vrbata nor Miller was a part of that prior dominance, though; each signed as a free agent with Vancouver during the offseason.

Desjardins replaced John Tortorella, who was let go after the Canucks failed to make the playoffs last season.

Season-openers haven't gone the Flames way of late. Calgary is 12-19-10-2 all-time in its first game of the season and hasn't started with a victory since Oct. 1, 2009.

"We weren't good enough at the end of the night," captain Mark Giordano said. "It's about not getting to that position where we're down by a couple goals. We've got to find a way to put that desperation mode on a lot earlier in the game."

The game was tied 1-1 in the second period before goals by Zach Kassian and Vrbata put the Canucks ahead to stay.

A Brad Richardson misfire landed on the stick of Kassian, alone to the left of Jonas Hiller, and he batted the puck into a virtually empty net at 5:16 to put the Canucks up 2-1.

The goal came just 68 seconds after Paul Byron tied the game by beating Miller between the legs on an odd-man rush.

Vrbata's goal at 11:07 needed some help from a video review.

After Henrik Sedin's wraparound attempt hit defenseman TJ Brodie's stick and bounced up, Vrbata quickly swatted the puck out of midair and behind Hiller. The goal was originally waved off, but a lengthy video review overturned the decision.

"I knew that I had a blade high over the bar, probably, but I knew I hit it with the shaft," he said. "I know that they said it was close but I was pretty sure it was a good goal.

"I'm glad that a goal helped us to get two points."

The Flames took advantage of a fortunate bounce of their own at 13:19 to pull within 3-2. The puck caromed off the stick of Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler and into the slot, where Jiri Hudler took a tap from Sean Monahan before beating Miller over the glove.

But Miller closed the door in the third period, making nine saves before Henrik Sedin fought off a checker and knocked the puck into an empty net with 1:16 remaining and Hiller on the bench in favor of an extra attacker.

"We have a young team and we're going to learn," said Calgary coach Bob Hartley, whose team begins a six-game road trip Thursday against the Edmonton Oilers. "It's too bad because in the third, that's when we played our best hockey but we couldn't get the tying goal.

Miller weathered an early storm and bought some time for the Canucks to open the scoring with 8:05 remaining in the first period. Alexandre Burrows, who didn't score his first goal last season until March 12 last season, in his 37th game, had the first goal of the season for Vancouver.

On the ensuing faceoff after Byron was whistled for hooking, Dan Hamhuis took a pass from Christopher Tanev and let go a shot through a screen that was directed by Burrows and behind Hiller to put the Canucks up 1-0 at 11:55.

"I thought I put all the bad luck aside last year and I prepared really hard this summer, worked really hard and I think I did everything I could to come out and have a strong year," Burrows said. "It's a good start, but it's only one game. You've got to make sure you keep pushing yourself."

The goal came after Calgary couldn't beat Miller during a 5-on-3 power play that lasted 64 seconds.

"I feel that's the turning point," Hartley said. "We didn't capitalize. An early power play, 5-on-3, you don't score on those, you just make your life miserable, and especially on a home opener where the fans are already on their feet and they're just waiting to light up the barn on fire, and we couldn't.

"Not only, that we didn't score, but after this I felt we lost the momentum for basically the first 40 minutes. We were not very good in our zone. We had way too many missed assignments."

Prior to the power play, the Flames held a 5-1 edge in shots. The Canucks finished the period by outshooting Calgary 12-4, including a shorthanded attempt by Tanev in the dying seconds of the period that forced Hiller to flash a quick glove at the buzzer.

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