Vancouver 4, NY Islanders 3

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Ticker)—The New York Islanders knew they were in for a tough time against one of the Western Conference’s strongest teams but had no idea they also would be battling the officials.

Brendan Morrison scored his second goal of the game to tie it and defenseman Sami Salo netted the game-winner less than seven minutes later as the Vancouver Canucks received help from an early whistle to post a 4-3 victory over the Islanders.

Less than 30 seconds after Salo’s eighth goal of the season gave the Canucks the lead, Shawn Bates raced in on a breakaway and slid a backhander under goaltender Peter Skudra to even the game.

But referee Don Koharski blew the play dead from the Islanders’ zone just before the puck crossed the goal line as New York defenseman Radek Martinek was injured after being hit with a high stick by Jarkko Ruutu.

“To be honest, I thought it was (a two-line pass) at first,” Skudra said. “Then (Bates) kept going and I thought that it was someone in the stands whistling. He came in and didn’t make a move at all. I definitely heard a whistle, though.”

“Everyone heard the whistle, it was just at the wrong time,” Bates said. “I don’t know if Donny saw the play down the ice, but I didn’t talk to the refs.”

After a brief consultation with fellow referee Rob Martell, Koharski informed New York the goal would not stand but offered no explanation why no penalty was called when Ruutu’s high stick drew blood from Martinek.

“That was a tough one there,” Bates said. “I don’t even want to get into it. I can’t even express what I feel right now. It was definitely the turning point of the game. It could have been a tie game. These points are so important for us. We’re battling for a playoff spot, Don should know that.”

“It was a nice break for us,” Vancouver captain Markus Naslund said. “It’s always nice to get those. That would have changed the face of the game.”

With the loss, the Islanders remained just four points ahead of the archrival New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand.

“We’re not really looking at them,” Islanders defenseman Adrian Aucoin said. “We let the coaches and managers worry about that. All we can control is our own games.”

Todd Bertuzzi scored a goal and set up two others for the Canucks, while Naslund added two assists to increase his league-leading points total to a career-high 91.

Oleg Kvasha, Jason Blake and newcomer Randy Robitaille tallied for the Islanders, who have lost four straight.

“We had a lousy first period, but the second and third, we played pretty well,” New York coach Peter Laviolette said. “We need to play a full game like we played the second and third period if we want to be successful.”

After unloading goaltender Chris Osgood to St. Louis earlier in the day at the trade deadline, the Islanders’ season-high six-game road trip got off to a less than auspicious start.

Just 64 seconds into the contest, Morrison entered the New York zone with only defenseman Roman Hamrlik back and backhanded a shot from the right faceoff circle that sneaked under goalie Rick DiPietro’s glove to give the Canucks an early lead.

The first overall pick in the 2000 draft, DiPietro redeemed himself five minutes later when he denied Matt Cooke from the doorstep on a 2-on-none rush.

“He’s only 21 years old,” Aucoin said of DiPietro. “It’s pretty amazing how good he is at that age. We have all the confidence in him, Snowy (Garth Snow).”

Goalless in his last 14 games, Kvasha unleashed a slap shot from the right circle while shorthanded that Skudra deflected into the air. Rushing to the net, Kvasha knocked the puck between the goalie’s pads after it hit the ice at 6:39 for his 50th career tally.

Vancouver regained the lead on a power play midway through the first, as defenseman Brent Sopel ripped a wrist shot from the right point that bounced off Bertuzzi in front and past DiPietro at 11:05. It was Bertuzzi’s fourth goal in three games and his nine in as many contests.

“I wasn’t too pleased with our power play to start, but we picked it up and buried our chances when we had them,” Bertuzzi said.

Enjoying a career season, Blake drew the Islanders even with a power-play tally at 8:39 of the second.

Michael Peca gathered a loose puck in the left circle and threw it toward the net. After Mark Parrish’s deflection sent it to the right side, Blake lifted a shot over Skudra for his 22nd goal of the season.

It was Blake’s team-leading 49th point, 26 more than his previous career high.

Acquired from Pittsburgh on Sunday, Robitaille made his Islanders’ debut a successful one.

With Ruutu in the penalty box for hooking, Robitaille lifted the rebound of Alexei Yashin’s shot over a sprawling Skudra 4:27 into the third period for his first tally in 14 games and a 3-2 New York lead.

But Morrison answered with a power-play goal 3:28 later, putting a feed from Naslund under the crossbar from the doorstep for his third two-goal game of the season and the fifth of his career.

Hoping to avoid their first four-game winless skid since late October, the Canucks took the lead with 5:58 left in the third when DiPietro failed to stop Salo’s slap shot from the right point.

“It was embarrassing,” DiPietro said. “That cost us a point or maybe even two points on the night. He came down, I don’t know if I was leaning to my glove side or what. It glanced off my blocker and went through. (About) 10 out of 10 times, you’ve got to save that.”

“It’s very impressive, a really nice goal,” Naslund said of Salo’s shot. “He has one of the hardest shots in the league. It’s tough for any goalie to stop.”

The victory gave Vancouver 40 in 70 games, marking the fastest it has reached the plateau in its 33-year history.

“I was pretty pleased with our play tonight,” Canucks coach Marc Crawford said. “We’re going to get better as we go on. Coming off a road trip, that was a good result for us.”

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Goalie Team Shot Save
Rick DiPietro NYI 24 20
Peter Skudra Van 31 28