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Sundin doesn't score, but Canucks beat Oilers 4-2

by John Kreiser
It was Mats Sundin's debut but Steve Bernier's night.

Sundin wasn't much of a factor in his much-anticipated return to the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks. But Bernier and linemates Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler more than made up for any shortcomings. Bernier scored twice in 12 seconds and assisted on Burrows' goal as the Canucks held off the Edmonton Oilers 4-2 on Wednesday night.

The Bernier-Kesler-Burrows line accounted for eight points before Pavol Demitra added an empty-net goal with 36 seconds left after a steal by Daniel Sedin.

"They put us back together after a couple of games off, and I think we had some energy that sparked a couple of goals," Kesler said.

Sundin, wearing the No. 13 that became familiar to fans during his 13 seasons in Toronto, centered a line with former Leaf Kyle Wellwood and Mason Raymond. He wound up with 24 shifts and 15:02 of ice time, but did not have a shot on goal — four of his attempts were blocked and two others missed the net. He was credited with one hit and won half of his 18 faceoffs.

"Physically, I felt better than I was hoping. It's good to get that first game out of the way," Sundin said after the game at Rexall Place, which improved the Canucks' record to 22-15-5 and dropped the Oilers to 19-17-3.

He admitted his hands failed him at times.

"It's timing — where you come in and shoot, you jam yourself a little bit. And when you're trying to make a pass (it goes) over a stick," he said.

"It felt exactly like where you are at the start of a season, where you're trying to get it back, but the only way to get it back is to play games."

Coach Alain Vigneault was pleased with what he saw in Sundin's debut.

"I thought he got better as the game went on," Vigneault said. "It's a step in the right direction. I talked to him a little bit in the third (period) on the bench, as the game was on the line, about how he felt. He felt fine, so I gave him a little more ice time.

"I wanted to play him between 12 and 15 minutes, and I think it was 15:02, so I misjudged by two seconds," Vigneault said.

Neither team did much of anything for the first half of the game. Edmonton wasted three first-period power plays — though the rash of penalties did limit Sundin to five shifts and 3:08 of ice time in the opening period. Halfway through the game, the Oilers had outshot the Canucks 9-7.

"As a team, we didn't start the game like we wanted," Bernier said. "The most important thing was that we started getting the puck deep and forechecking the D. It's a good way to create turnovers, and we just finished off our goals when we had a chance."

As the second period wound down, the game suddenly opened up.

Bernier set up the game's first goal by controlling the puck behind the net and finding Burrows coming down the slot. Burrows' quick wrist shot over Dwayne Roloson's glove at 14:07 gave the Canucks a 1-0 lead.

The Oilers needed just 90 seconds to tie the game. Robert Nilsson tucked the puck between Jason LaBarbera and the post at 15:37 to get Edmonton even.

But 1:43 later, the Canucks went back in front when Bernier one-timed Kesler's pass behind Roloson to put Vancouver ahead 2-1. He stuffed home Burrows' pass 12 seconds later to give the Canucks a two-goal lead.

"After we got up 2-1, we wanted to come out and have a strong shift," Kesler said. "We got a lucky bounce and scored again."


Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said Bernier's second goal was a backbreaker.

"That third goal really hurt us," he said. "It was a disappointing goal to give up. We tried to create something out of nothing, and it wound up in the back of our net.

Erik Cole tipped in Steve Staios' shot 8:40 into the third period to make it a one-goal game again, but the Oilers were unable to beat LaBarbera before Demitra rocketed a slap shot into the empty net to sew up the victory.

"When you're down two goals, that's a tough gap to overcome," MacTavish said. "We played hard in the third period, but if we'd played that hard at the start, we'd probably have won the game."

Sundin is slated to make his home debut Friday when the Canucks host the St. Louis Blues. He will play his first game against his old teammates when Vancouver visits Toronto on Feb. 21.

Vigneault feels Sundin will only improve as he gets used to playing with his new team.

"For a guy who really just had two team practices with an NHL team, what we saw tonight, I think, is what we could expect," he said. "We have two more games on the weekend. As he plays a little bit more, a couple more practices, without a doubt I think he's going to become the that he thinks he can be and what we need him to be."

Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.

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