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Higgins' OT goal helps Schenider, Canucks steal one

by Kevin Woodley
VANCOUVER -- Backup goalie Cory Schneider talked this week about needing to come up with a few more big saves and maybe steal a tight, low-scoring game for his struggling Canucks.

It only took 30 seconds to know Sunday might provide that game.

Schneider was forced to throw out the left pad and rob Jason Spezza alone in the slot on the opening shift, setting the early tone for an evening that would include another point-blank stop on Ottawa's No. 1 center, two more in-alone opportunities for his top-line counterpart Milan Michalek, and several other grade-A Senators' scoring chances.

"Yeah, there were a couple," Schneider said with a shrug after making 28 saves before Chris Higgins deflected a Dan Hamhuis point shot past Alex Auld 2:18 into overtime to give Vancouver a 2-1 victory over the visiting Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.

If the stops on Michalek -- which included a sprawling glove on a breakaway midway through the period -- were the best, the early save on Spezza might have been the most important.

"You have to be sharp early, you can't get down, you can't fall behind quickly, and I had to make some saves early on to keep it at zero," said Schneider, making a second-straight start while Roberto Luongo rests an undisclosed upper-body injury. "A skill team like that is going to make plays, so you have to make some skill saves and keep them at bay."

He did so long enough for the Canucks, who got the opening goal from Henrik Sedin on an early second-period power play, to inch back above .500 (10-9-1) a quarter of the way through their season. It was also the 246th win for coach Alain Vigneault in Vancouver, tying him with Marc Crawford for the most in franchise history -- in 99 fewer games.

Vigneault, though, was quick to put the credit back where it belonged.

"We needed one of our goaltenders to come in and steal us a game where it wasn't pretty and that's what Schneids did tonight," said Vigneault, pointing to numerous breakdowns in what he labeled an "ugly" win. "To win in this League and in a consistent fashion, you need great goaltending. I thought Schneids was our best player on the ice."

His counterpart was just as good at the other end. Pressed into action against his former team when Senators' starter Craig Anderson's neck stiffened up following the morning skate, Auld was having his best game of the season before Hamhuis slapped a rolling puck toward the net. Higgins' deflection from atop the crease somehow snuck under the blocker of Auld, spoiling an otherwise great effort.

Auld, who came in winless in three starts with a 4.23 goals-against average and .823 save percentage, said he was seeing the puck well all night, but never glimpsed the winner.

"That was part of the problem," he said. "Higgins got in front of me and I think it hit his stick and he just chipped it up and snuck it through my arm. It's always tough where there is a late screen like that and you lose the puck along the way and it's deflected."

Still, Auld and the Senators were drawing lots of positives from the loss, which left them 3-0-1 in the last four games, with five of six points on this Western Canadian swing.

"We battled," said Spezza, who was also robbed from point-blank range 30 seconds into the third period before setting up Colin Greening's tying goal three minutes later. "They're an elite team in the League and I thought we deserved a better fate."

They might have had it if not for a power play that went 0-for-5 and is now 2-for-30 over the last nine games. Making matters worse, the Senators' man-advantage units forced Auld to make his best saves, robbing Kesler with a sprawling glove on perfect backdoor 2-on-1 play, and standing up on Higgins' high shot on another odd-man rush.

"We're creating stuff but we've got to put the puck in the net," Spezza said of the power play. "Give [Schneider] credit, he played real well, made some big saves for them."

So did Auld, who admits he may have benefited from the short notice. Told after the morning skate Anderson was too sore to play -- he did back up, is listed as day-to-day, and is not expected to be out long -- Auld didn't have time to get too worked up about just his second game as a visitor in a city where he played his first four NHL seasons.

"Sometimes that's a good thing," he said. "I have a lot of fond memories here and always loved playing here. It's special every time I come back here, and a win would have been great, but we have to look at the bigger picture and as a team, it was a big point for us."

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