VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP)—Desperate to end a four-game slide and get back into the playoff picture, the Vancouver Canucks turned to their veterans.
And they certainly responded.
Captain Markus Naslund tied the game with 41 seconds left in the first period and former captain Trevor Linden broke it open with two goals 5 minutes apart early in the second period to lead Vancouver to a 6-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Sunday night.
“Our key veterans, our guys that are used to this pressure, to these high-stake games, are the ones that made the difference,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. “Those guys have got to come up and be difference makers in games, and tonight they stepped up and they got it done.”
It was no coincidence, Vigneault added, that they did so from within a few feet from the net, starting with Naslund diving headfirst to knock in a loose puck.
“That’s how you score the goals; you go to the tough areas,” Vigneault said. “You’ve got to go there and a lot of times you’ve got to take a lot of abuse.”
All three teams have three games left in the regular season.
“I don’t think you’re ever as good as you seem to be and I don’t think you’re as bad as you might be,” Linden said of a recent slump that included blowing a two-goal lead in Calgary. “Maybe as bleak as things looked in certain games, you’re not that far off. I think that was the case. It’s so competitive night in and night out. Our guys were sound tonight and we have to build off it.”
After fighting back from a pair of first-period deficits, Linden gave the Canucks their first lead 1:53 into the second. He was left alone in front to take Byron Ritchie’s pass, pulling the puck to his forehand before lifting it over a sprawling Miikka Kiprusoff. Rookie Alexander Edler swept a loose puck off the goal line on a Calgary power play three minutes later, and Linden doubled the lead at 6:49 after a rebound bounced off Kiprusoff and onto his stick in front of an empty net.
It was the first two-goal game since Feb. 25, 2003, for Linden, a 19-year NHL veteran who has been a healthy scratch 23 times this season.
“It feels nice to contribute offensively in a big game,” Linden said. “I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. It’s been a while since I was first star.”
Linden’s second goal finished off Kiprusoff, who was replaced by Curtis Joseph after giving up four goals on 13 shots.
“He was left defenseless,” Calgary coach Mike Keenan said. “They run him over in the first period when (Naslund) scored the goal and knocked his facemask off, so if they’re not going to protect him, I’m going to get him out of there at that point in the game, when it was pretty much decided.”
It was a tough night all around for the Flames, who started without top center Daymond Langkow after the death of his father-in-law, and lost second-line center Craig Conroy to a torso injury in the first period.
After losing at home to Edmonton the night before, Calgary jumped out to an early lead after Luongo came well out to challenge a shot from the right point and didn’t get back to the other side to stop David Moss’s deflection 1:13 in.
A penalty on Calgary for too many men allowed Salo to tie it on a point shot Kiprusoff never saw, but Vancouver gave that back with two straight penalties at the end of the period.
Matthew Lombardi, who replaced Langkow on the top line, scored on the second with 1:08 left, tapping in Jarome Iginla’s pass with Luongo looking the wrong way trying to fish his stick out of the net after Iginla ran him over.
Naslund tied it again 27 seconds later, diving to poke in a loose puck sitting in the crease after Daniel Sedin’s two-on-one shot trickled through Kiprusoff.
“It has to bother you,” Keenan said. “If it doesn’t bother you at this point, then you don’t have much of a passion for winning. Our defensive zone coverage was real poor down low. I guess that’s what bothered me the most.”
Langkow is expected to return for Tuesday night’s game in Edmonton. … Canucks D Mike Weaver recorded first point of the season on Linden’s second goal. … After traveling for their last 11 games, including a pair of one-game homestands, the Canucks close out the season with three more at home, including a rematch with the Flames on Saturday, the last game of the regular season for both teams.