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Luongo's return can't save Canucks

by Brian Hunter
A healthy Roberto Luongo provides plenty of hope moving forward, but if the Vancouver Canucks can't solve their problems winning games at G.M. Place, they won't get far in the Western Conference.

Luongo returned to the lineup Thursday night after an eight-week absence, but Joakim Lindstrom beat him 1:05 into the game for his first of two goals as the Phoenix Coyotes extended the Canucks' home losing streak to six with a 4-1 victory.

While all the focus was on Luongo, the Coyotes got a strong effort from Ilya Bryzgalov in moving into a tie with Vancouver and Anaheim for fifth in the conference. Bryzgalov turned aside 31 shots while Keith Yandle and Peter Mueller also scored.

"His first game back, we knew we had to get pucks on him," said Yandle, who also had an assist. "And he was battling a groin injury, so just tried to get him to move all night and just get as many pucks on him as we could."

At the time Luongo injured his groin, in the first period of a Nov. 22 game against Pittsburgh, he was off to one of the best starts of his career, leading the League with five shutouts. He yielded two goals on 11 shots in each of the first two periods against the Coyotes before finishing strong with 10 saves in the third.

"It was a rough start," said Luongo, who missed 24 games. "Obviously, I wasn't feeling that comfortable at the start of the game but I think halfway through the second period I started feeling at little bit more comfortable."

Daniel Sedin's 22nd goal of the season with 8:58 remaining kept the Canucks from being shut out but couldn't prevent another disappointing effort on their own ice. The current skid matches Vancouver's longest ever at home, initially set during the franchise's inaugural season in 1970-71.

Lindstrom, who wasn't even on the Coyotes' roster six weeks ago, owned the first period, beating Luongo twice and coming within a nice blocker save of a hat trick.

Luongo didn't see a shot over the first minute of play, but looked a bit awkward when Lindstrom scored from inside the right circle after being left unchecked. It didn't get easier after Mats Sundin was sent off for tripping and Lindstrom converted on the power play at 13:16. He collected a loose puck after Yandle's point shot deflected off him back into the middle and hit a wide-open net.

"He's one of the best goalies in the world, if not the best, but if you are gone for that amount of time it's always hard to come back," Lindstrom said. "Our game plan was to put pucks to the net and go to the net."

Lindstrom now has seven goals in 17 games since coming over from Anaheim in a deal for minor leaguer Logan Stephenson on Dec. 3.

Phoenix continued to pour on the offense against Luongo. He benefitted from a pair of hit posts by Enver Lisin and Shane Doan, but Yandle made it 3-0 at 2:22 of the second with a screened shot from along the right boards. Mueller then cashed in off another power play at 8:34 when the Canucks left him unchecked off the faceoff and he was able to drive the net for a shot between Luongo's pads.

Sedin's goal in the third bounced in off the leg of Phoenix defenseman Zbynek Michalek, a rare break for Vancouver but hardly enough to make a difference on this night.

"Our confidence is being tested right now, our character is being tested, our leadership group is being tested," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Obviously, Roberto would have liked to come in and probably have that first save and be a difference like he always was. He played a good game, made some great saves. We didn't give him the help we're supposed to give our goalie to be successful."

The Coyotes won for the third time in four games, but picked up only their second road victory in the last month.

"It was real important for us," Doan said. "We had a great record last year on the road -- I think we were fourth in the league -- so we know we are capable of doing it. Our road record has slipped and we have to find a way to be better and we will."

Material from wire services was used in this report.
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