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Struggling Canucks hold off Blues

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVERVancouver Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider was hoping to get some shots early to find his rhythm in his first start in nine days.

His teammates obliged – and then some – against the St. Louis Blues.

The Canucks were outshot 15-3 in the opening period, but Schneider made a couple of highlight stops in tight to keep them in the game and let Vancouver find its legs. Jannik Hansen and Daniel Sedin responded with goals 1:42 apart early in the second period, Dale Weise added another midway through the period, and the Canucks held on in the third for a 3-2 win against the Blues on Tuesday night.

"It was good to see a couple shots early and get into it and not just be standing around," Schneider said. "I have been working hard and feel I was ready to make this start and I needed a win. It's been a while for me."

After watching Roberto Luongo start four straight games, there was no standing around early for Schneider. He kept the game scoreless with a great glove save off a wide-open Alex Pietrangelo from the slot at the tail end of a power play, then sprawled to get his left pad on Andy McDonald alone in the front.

"You don't really get to pick and choose what kind of shots you see," Schneider said with a smile. "If you did, they would all be wristers from the point. That's part of the gig, it could be a breakaway, it could be a big chance you have to be sharp and ready. You can't sit around and say I feel good in the third period because I have seen some shots. You have to be ready off the hop."

Schneider was, and his teammates joined him in the second, matching their shot total from the first period in the first 2:30, when Hansen wired the third shot of the period over the right shoulder of rookie Jake Allen.

Sedin doubled the lead on Vancouver's next shot, cutting unchecked into the slot to one-touch twin brother Henrik Sedin's backhand pass from behind the net. Weise made it 3-0 midway through the period, tucking the puck between Allen's legs after a pretty spinning pass from Jordan Schroeder put him in alone.

For a team that had scored more than two goals just once in the last eight games, it was a welcome outburst -- especially for Sedin, who hadn't scored in eight games, and Weise, who went 10 without a goal.

It might not have mattered if not for Schneider's play early and late.

"Our goalie was hands down the best player on the ice tonight," Weise said. "He made some absolutely huge saves to bail some guys out including myself."

It was just the third win in nine games for a Canucks team coming off a tough 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild the night before. The Blues took advantage of those tired legs in the third period, with Jaden Schwartz scoring early and Patrik Berglund making it 3-2 with 6:22 left as St. Louis outshot Vancouver 13-2 in the final 20 minutes.

It wasn't enough to prevent the end of the Blues' three-game winning streak, however, leaving them even with Vancouver in the Western Conference playoff race with 34 points.

Allen, playing a fourth straight game ahead of veterans Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, finished with 16 saves but had his personal five-game winning streak snapped and lost for just the second time in 11 appearances this season (8-2-0).

"Their best players were better than our best players, and that was the difference in the hockey game," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We had great momentum in the first period, and their top players really started to dial it up in the second. We didn't have an answer for about 10 or 12 minutes. We got great effort from [Vladimir] Sobotka's line. Other than that we didn't get much of a push until the end on a couple of lines. At the end of the day, their top players did what they had to do and that was the small difference in the hockey game."

That was all Hitchcock said before ending his short post-game media session without taking any questions. He didn't point out anyone in particular, but you didn't have to look past the top line, with David Backes, Chris Stewart and Alexander Steen each finishing minus-3, to know who the coach was talking about.

"Compete level in the second wasn't good at all, and that's how they scored their goals," Berglund said. "They were more greedy than we were. We played a good 40 minutes, but the other 20 minutes cost us the game."

Despite catching Minnesota atop the Northwest Division, it wasn't all good news for the Canucks.

Defenseman Christopher Tanev went straight to the locker room after Kris Russell's point shot hit him in the side of the face and bounced straight to Berglund for the second St. Louis goal. Forward Zack Kassian lasted only one period into his return after missing the previous two games with a back injury -- he re-aggravated it during a spirited fight with Stewart just 2:41 into the game.

Vigneault didn't think Tanev's injury was serious, but wasn't sure if Kassian would join the team to start a three-game road trip in Phoenix on Thursday.

"He's back to being day to day," Vigneault said of Kassian.

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