Thursday marked a welcome back to Minnesota for Pavol Demitra
, a welcome night off for Roberto Luongo
— and a very welcome win for the Vancouver Canucks
Demitra scored a goal and set up Daniel Sedin
's game-winner in his first game against his old team, and backup goaltender Curtis Stanford did his best Luongo impression with 28 saves as the Canucks went into Minnesota and beat the Wild 3-2.
"I like to play against old teams and prove they made a mistake that they don't want you back," said Demitra, who admitted to some pregame nerves in his return to the Xcel Energy Center. "You want to play your best game and show what kind of player I am." Demitra had 40 goals and 78 assists the last two seasons for the Wild before signing with the Canucks as a free agent.
The Canucks broke a 2-2 tie with 8:19 left in regulation when, after a long shift in the Minnesota end, Sedin took a pass from Demitra, who was to the left of the net. As Sedin was being checked, his snap shot from low in the left circle beat Niklas Backstrom
on the glove side.
Demitra has played with the Sedin twins for the past four games after missing 10 with a rib injury. Coach Alain Vigneault
likes what he sees from the trio.
"They are coming along," he said after his team improved to 6-0-2 in its last eight games, losing only a pair of shootouts. "They are passing a lot. I'd like to see them shoot a little bit more, but then you see how they score the third goal and you just say those are skilled players and they have to work itself out."
The win increased Vancouver's lead over Minnesota in the Northwest Division to three points. At least one of the two teams has been atop the division since the start of the season, and although it's not even Thanksgiving, the Wild knew the impact of the game.
"It's big," defenseman Nick Schultz
said after the Wild lost for only the second time in six games — both to Vancouver. "These are the points you need. You've got to win at home if you want to get into the playoffs."
Minnesota was 6-1-2 in its last nine home games against Vancouver and appeared to be getting a break when Vigneault gave Luongo the night off after the All-Star goaltender had started 14 consecutive games. But Sanford showed no effects of his only previous start, when he allowed five goals in Buffalo.
"You have to let that go. The season is too long to carry baggage," he said. "This was a start I knew I was getting for a week so it gave me time to prepare. I just wanted to come out, forget about Buffalo and have a strong game."
He did just that, allowing only two goals by Mikko Koivu
The Minnesota center scored for the second straight game when his slap shot from the top of the left circle beat Sanford at 7:16 of the second period.
"It armpitted me. It's a shot you stop nine out of 10 times," Sanford said.
tied it at the 12-minute mark, but Koivu's shorthanded goal 2:22 later put Minnesota back in front.
However, Demitra tied it again at 16:10 when he banked a centering pass from behind the goal line off Backstrom for his third goal in three games.
"That's the toughest shot for a goalie," Demitra said. "You just put something on net hoping it will go in. ... We got lucky and scored on that one."
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.