How well are the Vancouver Canucks
playing these days? Not even a visit from the San Jose Sharks
can slow them down.
Roberto Luongo stopped 28 shots and the Canucks solidified their positioning in the Western Conference with a 3-1 win over the Sharks on Saturday Night at General Motors Place, snapping a seven-game losing streak against the Sharks in the process.
Alexander Edler, Mats Sundin and Kevin Bieksa scored goals for Vancouver, winners of four straight as well as 12 of its last 14 games. The Canucks remained four points ahead of Columbus for fifth place and closed to within five points of Chicago for home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
"It was a big win for us, one of those upper-echelon teams in the League that we haven't seemed to been able to beat this year," said Bieksa, who capped the scoring with a power-play goal in the third period. "We played them pretty hard in San Jose last game, couldn't get the win. Tonight, I think it was a full 60-minute effort."
Joe Thornton's power-play goal late in the second was the lone highlight for San Jose, which lost its fourth straight and stayed tied for the top spot in the West with Detroit. Boston regained the lead in the President's Trophy race with a win earlier Saturday, jumping one point ahead of the Sharks and Red Wings.
"We certainly had a great run all year, but the last month or so has been pretty tough," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "Again tonight we fell asleep the first 10 minutes -- I mean, we didn't even show up. And then we were just kind of all over the map for the remainder of the game. Too little, too late, which seems to be the same story over and over again the last month, so we're going to need to pick it up here."
Already missing a handful of injured forwards, the Sharks lost veteran defender Rob Blake on the play that resulted in Thornton's goal with 2.9 seconds left in the middle period. Blake left the ice favoring his right leg and did not return for the third.
"It's something you deal with all year," Thornton said. "It's just part of the game, different guys have to step up and play."
Thornton cut a 2-0 deficit in half by scoring into a wide-open net after Vancouver forward Ryan Johnson cleared a loose puck to him with Luongo down following a scramble. His 18th goal of the season seemed to give San Jose life entering the final 20 minutes, but Luongo was brilliant in stopping all 11 shots he faced, including a sprawling glove save on Jonathan Cheechoo.
Bieksa restored the two-goal cushion for the Canucks by scoring with 8:12 remaining, 27 seconds after Devin Setoguchi was sent off for holding. His 11th goal came on just the second shot of the period by Vancouver.
"Confidence is obviously a lot better now," said Bieksa, one of the Canucks who struggled during a prolonged losing streak earlier this season. "I think when you lose eight, nine in a row, you start doubting yourself and you start trying to do a little too much. I was much like everybody else on the team, where I was forcing it a little and now I've kind of settled in, a little bit of confidence."
Edler and Sundin scored goals in the first 6:02 of the first period for the strong start the Canucks were looking for after getting outscored 11-3 in their previous three meetings with the Sharks this season and 26-7 over the past two seasons.
During a delayed penalty call on San Jose, Edler opened the scoring with a one-timer that beat Brian Boucher under the pads at the 3:15 mark. Alex Burrows screened the goaltender on the play, leading to Edler's eighth of the season.
Sundin doubled Vancouver's lead with his seventh goal since signing in January, and first in 11 games, taking Pavol Demitra's pass from behind the net and deking to his backhand before lifting a shot over Boucher.
"You look at the roster, there's no reason why this team shouldn't be able to play like this on a consistent basis," Sundin said. "In my opinion all the ingredients are there to have a successful team so hopefully we can build on this."
Burrows thought he had made it 3-0 just 27 seconds later when he whacked in a loose puck sitting in front of Boucher's pads, but the officials had blown play dead an instant before the puck went into the net. Boucher, who started his fifth straight game as Evgeni Nabokov recovers from a lower-body injury, finished with 26 saves.
Luongo kept the Sharks off the board in the first with a couple left pad saves on Ryane Clowe at the side of the net during a San Jose power play, then made a key stop with under five minutes left when he dropped his stick and dove to swipe the puck out of the air with the palm of his blocker after a shot caromed off bodies in front and toward the open net.
"We wanted to send a message just in case that we face these guys in the playoffs and let them know it's not going to be an easy series," Luongo said.
Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.