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Miller makes 31 saves to help Canucks top Sharks

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- The Vancouver Canucks got off to a rough start after the Christmas break, losing in overtime Sunday to the Anaheim Ducks.

The Canucks weren't happy with the way they played, and they did something about it Tuesday at SAP Center against the San Jose Sharks.

The Canucks bounced back in a big way, defeating the Sharks 3-1 in a battle against another Pacific Division foe.

Bo Horvat, Jannik Hansen and Radim Vrbata each scored a goal, and Ryan Miller made 31 saves for Vancouver (21-11-3).

"This is a team we're fighting for the playoffs," Vrbata said. "We knew that this was an important game, and our line, we felt we didn't play our best in Anaheim and we wanted to have better effort. And we even made a morning skate this morning to make sure we were ready, and it paid off."

Vancouver (45 points) pulled to within nine points of first-place Anaheim in the Pacific. The Canucks are one point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings and two ahead of the Sharks and Calgary Flames for second place.

"We needed to come back with a strong effort," Hansen said. "We knew these are extremely big points. Division games are four-point games. You don't have to look over the standings twice to see that these are very important games against San Jose, Anaheim, L.A., Calgary, pretty much everyone we are playing these days. Big performance again, and [Miller] was tremendous today."

The Canucks ended the Sharks' eight-game home winning streak and handed them their third straight loss overall. San Jose (19-13-5) is on its longest losing streak since a four-game skid Nov. 18-26.

"I didn't think we were particularly good, and the score indicated that," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "For me there's a price we have to pay to win, and right now we're not reaching deep enough. We want everything on sale. ... We want the easy way out. The power play is a prime example. We had 6-8 shots, looked at them, I don't think we had anybody near the net or around [Miller's] eyes."

Sharks center Joe Thornton scored on a penalty shot in the second period.

Miller improved to 9-1-1-0 in 11 career games against the Sharks, including 2-0-0 this season. He made 34 saves against the Sharks at SAP Center on Nov. 6 in a 3-2 victory.

"I think the effort and mindset was there in Anaheim," Miller said. "We just couldn't quite get the offensive side or puck control going. Certainly a step forward tonight, and we had the same effort on defense. Big penalty kills and blocked shots. That's what ultimately is going to do it for us down the road, is good structure. Goal-scoring kind of comes and goes some games. I thought tonight was a good response by the guys."

Sharks goaltender Alex Stalock, making his first start since Dec. 11, made 18 saves.

San Jose entered the game with the NHL's No. 2 power play, but went 0-for-4 with the man advantage against Vancouver, which did not have a power-play opportunity.

The Canucks took a 1-0 lead at 3:08 of the first period on Horvat's second NHL goal. The rookie spun and fired a shot from the left circle into heavy traffic. The puck banked off Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon's skate, and as Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows jammed away, it trickled past Stalock.

"It might not have been the prettiest goal I've ever scored, but it was definitely huge to get that first goal, especially in San Jose," Horvat said. "We knew they were going to come out flying. To weather the storm and get that goal was huge for us."

The Sharks outshot Vancouver 11-7 in the first period, but their best chance to score came on a penalty shot by Joe Pavelski at 8:28 that hit the crossbar and bounced over the net. Pavelski earned the penalty shot when Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler tripped him from behind on a breakway off a pass from Thornton.

"Breaks of the game," Pavelski said. "You wish it would go in. It's fun to be a part of. Game turns a little bit if that finds its way in."

Vancouver increased its lead to 2-0 at 3:05 of the second period on Hansen's ninth goal. Hansen had been in the penalty box for an illegal check to Sharks forward Tommy Wingels' head. He sprinted out of the box at the end of a penalty kill, took a pass from Edler and scored on a breakaway.

"It swings momentum," Hansen said. "These guys are so good on the power play. If they don't score, they create momentum. They were getting opportunities. But scoring right at the end of theirs, that kind of turned everything in our favor and we were able to get a little bit of breathing room."

San Jose cut Vancouver's lead to 2-1 at 4:36 of the second when Thornton scored on a penalty shot, banking the puck off the left post and past Miller. Thornton was on a breakaway when Canucks defenseman Christopher Tanev dove in front of him, sending Thornton to the ice.

The penalty-shot goal was San Jose's first in five years, to the day, and ended an 0-for-7 streak, including three tries this season. Former Sharks forward Ryan Clowe and Thornton each scored on penalty shots Dec. 30, 2009, at SAP Center in a 5-2 victory against the Washington Capitals in San Jose's only other game with two penalty-shot attempts.

Vancouver answered at 7:09 of the second period with Vrbata's 14th goal. He took a shot from the left circle that deflected off Stalock's glove and into the net, giving the Canucks a 3-1 lead.

"It was a big goal for us, a two-goal lead again," Vrbata said. "I think we played pretty good in the third with the lead. We didn't stay back. We kept coming after them. … I think it was a good effort."

The Sharks, who face the Ducks on Wednesday at Honda Center, pulled Stalock with 2:30 left in the game, but even with the extra attacker, they couldn't get the puck past Miller again.

"It was tough to get some good looks tonight for whatever reason," Thornton said. "They worked really hard defensively. We haven't played that well coming out of the Christmas break, so tomorrow is a huge game and we need to find some energy."

Sharks forward Matt Nieto was activated from injured reserve Tuesday and returned to the lineup after missing nine games with an ankle injury. He skated on the fourth line.

Defenseman Matt Irwin was in the lineup for San Jose after sitting eight games as a healthy scratch.

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