VANCOUVER – Cory Schneider kept his eyes open long enough to keep the Vancouver Canucks in the game late, and Maxim Lapierre closed his to end it.
Lapierre roofed a backhand deke in the third round of the shootout for the only goal of the game, and Schneider overcame an uneventful start to make 17 saves before stopping all three attempts in the shootout as the Canucks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 1-0 Tuesday at Rogers Arena.
"I closed my eyes, and pray and it worked," Lapierre said of his move.
The way Sergei Bobrovsky was playing, it wasn't a bad strategy.
The Columbus goaltender was the biggest story of a slow-moving game until that final shot, bouncing back quickly from a rare off night in Saturday's 5-2 loss at Nashville by making 21 of his 34 saves in the first half of the game. He sent the game to the shootout by making a
sprawling left pad breakaway save on Jannik Hansen with 30 seconds left in overtime, and stuffed Mason Raymond and Jordan Schroeder in the shootout before Lapierre finally beat him high.
Bobrovsky, who was pulled after four goals in 10 minutes of the loss in Nashville, declined to do post-game interviews in English. His coach, Todd Richards, wasn't surprised by his strong play, pointing to his 8-0-2 streak to start March.
"I wasn't expecting anything less than what we've seen over the last three weeks with Bob," Richards said of Bobrovsky, who posted his third career shutout – all this month – despite the loss. "He's the reason why we got a point."
While his goalie bounced back, Richards wouldn't say the same of his team, which started the month on an 8-0-3 run before the loss in Nashville. Despite moving within a point on the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, there wasn't much to like outside of the crease after being outshot 12-2 in the first period, 21-6 by the midway point of the game and 34-17 overall.
"We were fortunate to get a point, to me that's not really bouncing back," said Richards. "It's great we got a point but our game has to get a lot better, our drive has to get a lot better up front, our execution has to get better.
"I was looking for some things and didn't see them tonight."
The Canucks got exactly what they were looking for as they try to play through a run of injuries that left them without six forwards and with defenseman Keith Ballard playing left wing on the third line. With so many regulars out, Vancouver has relied on tight defense and a strong
Schneider for five straight wins to move two points ahead of the Minnesota Wild atop the Northwest Division.
It was Vancouver's second 1-0 win in the last three games.
"This is the way we want to play, be patient, be good in the system, and chances will come on the other side," Lapierre said. "I know we're going to score goals."
The hardest part for Schneider early on against Columbus was staying alert.
"It's better than 40 shots, but it is challenging to just make sure you are sharp and ready when you haven't really felt a puck," Schneider said after posting his third shutout of the season, and the seventh of his career. "I haven't really experienced a game like that at this level, so it was a challenge."
Schneider was reduced to the role of spectator while Bobrovsky turned away Tom Sestito alone in tight, and stuffed Lapierre on a partial break down the right wing in the first period, then denied Daniel Sedin and Jordan Schroeder from point-blank range early in the second.
He got a break when the rebound of a high shot off his left shoulder landed behind him, but was cleared away.
By the time the Blue Jackets registered their sixth shot – and arguably first real scoring chance – midway through the second, Bobrovsky had made 21 saves.
"If it wasn't for our goalie we probably would have been blown out today," said visibly-frustrated veteran Vinny Prospal. "I don't think we really played that hard as a team. I don't want to talk about (the Canucks). You should always take a look in the mirror yourself and as
a club, we didn't really play that hard."
Despite the start, Columbus matched Vancouver over the second half of the game, forcing Schneider to make some of the bigger stops, including a glove on that sixth shot from Foligno in the high slot. He got a piece of another rising Foligno shot midway through the third period and a couple of breaks – first when Prospal knocked a rebound just over the net, and again when defenseman Dan Hamhuis got his skate on Foligno's shot at an open net with 1:20 left to play.
"He's more old school, more salt of the earth, so I think he's more of a skate save, two-pad stack guy," Schneider said of the skate save by Hamhuis.
All kidding aside, Schneider had to talk to himself to stay sharp early.
"It's trying not to change your routine just because you are not seeing a lot of shots, makes sure you don't all of a sudden do things differently," he said. "So the mental preparation during the game, just talking to yourself and keeping yourself involved and worry about the very next shot and not anything else."
For the rest of the Canucks, the key was not trying to force too much, or cheat on offense after being turned aside repeatedly in the first 30 minutes.
"You start to grow impatient when you play in their end most of the night and you are not scoring," Hamhuis said. "But I thought we stuck with it well, didn't take any unnecessary chances and kept doing the things making us successful."