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Ducks stay hot with 4-2 win in Vancouver

by Kevin Woodley
VANCOUVER -- For a guy who doesn't have feeling in all of his left hand, Jason Blake showed pretty good touch on Sunday night.

After missing 34 games from an early-season skate cut that severed four tendons and two nerves across the top and side of his left wrist, Blake scored twice and set up Nick Bonino's opening goal to help the Anaheim Ducks extend their recent hot streak to 5-0-1 with an often-dominant 4-2 victory against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.

The game, Blake's seventh since coming back almost one month earlier than expected from the scary Oct. 14 injury, included 10 shots, a plus-3 rating, and his second straight winning goal --  pretty good considering he still can't feel the top of that left hand.

"I can't feel any of this right here," said Blake, using his right hand to trace over the still-purple scar, up over the top of his left thumb and index finger, then turning the hand over and squeezing while pointing to the inside. "But I can feel all of this."

That feeling on the inside, where he grips his stick, allowed Blake to get off a one-timer that led to Bonino's goal at 6:48 of the opening period, snap a 2-on-1 past Roberto Luongo's glove in the second period, and redirect a power-play shot through the goalie's legs in the third.

"They doctors did a hell of a job," said Blake, adding they put tubes in his forearm to direct the severed nerves back up towards the hands.

As hard as the recovery was, watching the Ducks flounder without him made Blake's nearly three-month absence tougher.

"Obviously the stage of my career and my age, it was tough," said the 38-year-old, who also overcame a leukemia diagnosis in 2007. "You don't wish this on anyone. You wanted to go out there and participate and contribute and help the team and you had to sit by the sidelines. There were a lot of days it was frustrating."

It also makes his contributions to their recent surge that much sweeter.

Anaheim's run came against non-playoff teams prior to Sunday's win over the powerhouse Canucks, and while Vancouver looked disinterested at times coming home after a draining four-game road trip that included an emotional Stanley Cup Final rematch win in Boston, the Ducks were full marks for slowing down the League's highest scoring team. In fact, Anaheim held the Canucks to five shots through most of two periods.

"I looked up in the second period with five minutes to go and I thought 'holy crap, they only have five shots on goal,'" said Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau. "This is unheard of for the Canucks. I was really proud of them."

By then Bobby Ryan had given the Ducks a 2-1 lead, scoring shortly after a power play expired early in the period. Jonas Hiller, who finished with 21 saves, made a good stop on Vancouver's fifth and got a break when Alexandre Burrows tipped the potential tying goal off the post.

Instead Blake doubled the lead 22 seconds later, on the 2-on-1. A late flurry forced Hiller, playing for the third time in four nights after missing one game with a lower-body injury, to make great saves on Dan Hamhuis and a Burrows breakaway. Blake ended any doubt about the outcome with a power-play redirection between Luongo's legs with 6:20 left.

It was just the third time in 11 games that the Canucks went home without a point (7-3-1), and they fell one point behind Chicago for first place in the Western Conference -- the Hawks beat San Jose 4-3 at home earlier Sunday.

Although his team outshot Vancouver 10-3 in the first, Hiller had to make a couple of tough, timely saves, and was beaten only by Cody Hodgson's perfect power-play shot at 10:52.

"He's making the saves that, quite frankly, when I first got here he wasn't making," Boudreau said of Hiller. "Timely, when you need saves, and that's building the guys up."

Despite the Ducks' recent surge, they're still 14th in the West -- 14 points out of a playoff spot, and 22 behind Vancouver.

The way things went early, though, you'd think that gap was reversed.

Vancouver was outshot 10-3 in the first period and only had one when Bonino deposited Anaheim's seventh behind Luongo, who made a point-blank glove save off Blake in the slot and extended left leg stop off Bonino before the second rebound was lifted past him.

It was the first time in 11 games – and just the second in 16 – the Canucks failed to score first.

"Three shots in the first for an offensive team that scores a lot of goals, that's obviously not good enough," said defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who took all three Vancouver penalties and was in the box for Blake's clincher. "Give them credit, they're a lot better team than they are in the standings, but we didn't execute the first two periods. Not every game is going to be a Boston-Vancouver game but there's no reason for a lack of execution. It's on us."

The one-sided shot clock continued in the second period. Anaheim had the first five before Ryan restored the lead just 2:21 in with his seventh goal the last 10 games.

Mason Raymond did score with 2:56 left to make it 4-2, but that just made Blake's first goal the game winner – his second straight after opening the scoring in a 5-0 win in Edmonton on Friday – and provided little comfort for the lack of chances Vancouver created earlier.

"We're trying to make the extra pass," Bieksa said. "Creating scoring chances sometimes the best thing to do is just put pucks on net and go to the net and get a little bit greasy. We're really good when we're doing that -- and we didn't do that tonight."
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