BUFFALO, NEW YORK (TICKER) —Markus Naslund took over the NHL scoring lead with a goal and an assist as the Vancouver Canucks stretched their unbeaten streak to six games with a 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
Naslund set up Brendan Morrison’s goal that opened the scoring 5:53 into the contest, then scored his league-leading 36th goal on a breakaway that made it 2-0 with just 19 seconds left in the period.
The two points gave the speedy Swede 70, one more than Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux.
Vancouver coach Marc Crawford pointed to Naslund’s defense as one of the keys to the game
“I thought that Nassey got the puck out almost every time tonight, which is really positive to see,” Crawford said. “Our leaders led the way.”
The loss extended Buffalo’s losing streak to five games, which comes on the heels of a season-high seven-game unbeaten streak. The Sabres are 3-16-5-2 when allowing the first goal.
“We have to play perfect hockey to win a game,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “We have to have good goaltending, we cannot have a bad period. We can’t even have a bad 10 minutes.”
Vancouver’s first two goals came off Buffalo turnovers, and the Sabres never recovered. Playing their third game in four nights, the Canucks improved to 3-0-3 in their last six contests and ran the NHL’s best road record to 17-7-3-0.
“I think when you’re on the road, you don’t want to put on a show,” Canucks right wing Todd Bertuzzi said. “Sometimes, I think even though people don’t want to say it, at home you try to put on too much of a show. You try to be a little cuter. It doesn’t work and on the road, we don’t. We keep it simple and seem to get the job done.”
Following a turnover in the neutral zone, Naslund and Morrison broke in on a two-on-one. Naslund fed a cross-ice pass to Morrison, who beat Martin Biron to the stick side for his first goal since December 26 - a span of 19 games.
“Yeah, it definitely feels good,” Morrison said. “When you’re looked upon to provide offense and you’re not really contributing, there’s no question about it, you have to snap out of it. The main thing is the team has been doing pretty well still. I got a great pass from Nassey tonight and fortunately it went it.”
Bertuzzi also assisted on Morrison’s goal, extending his points streak to 10 games. He has five goals and seven assists during that stretch.
With time running out in the period, Buffalo defenseman James Patrick coughed up the puck in the neutral zone. Trevor Linden sprang Naslund, who broke in alone, deked Biron out of position and flipped a backhander that got a piece of Biron’s glove before dropping into the net.
“Three games in four nights in this league is always very tough,” Crawford said. “You have to play real tight and pay attention to detail, and we did.”
After Artem Chubarov tallied 76 seconds into the second to give the Canucks a 3-0 lead, Buffalo tried to rally. Dmitri Kalinin and Ales Kotalik scored in the first seven minutes of the period, sandwiched around a goal by Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin, to make it 4-2.
The Canucks appeared to let up after opening a three-goal lead and played conservatively for most of the third period, registering only five shots.
“We came out real slow tonight and made a couple big mistakes,” Ruff said. “We got pushed back on our heels. We gave them opportunites to win the game and they did. We did create a lot of chances late and turned it on and we had opportunites to get back in the game.”
The Sabres had a number of good scoring chances over the final 20 minutes but could not break through against Dan Cloutier, who recorded 33 saves.
“Yeah, we put a lot of shots on Cloutier,” Biron said. “He made some really good saves out there. We had some great opportunities. We created a lot of offense, especially in the last half of the game. We hit the post, the puck slid in the crease, the puck went off a guy’s pants and went through the crease. They all could have went in.”