VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP)—The Vancouver Canucks have won a lot of games lately, but none felt as good as Saturday night’s victory over San Jose.
It was the 12th win in 14 games for Vancouver, but the first over San Jose in eight games dating to April 7, 2007.
“I think it was a statement game,” said Kevin Bieksa, whose power-play goal almost 12 minutes into the third period answered Joe Thornton’s man-advantage marker with 2.9 second left in the second, restoring a two-goal cushion.
“We’ve been winning for the last little while, but to beat a quality team like San Jose, a team we haven’t beaten all season, is huge for us and definitely something we needed going into the playoffs.”
The Canucks didn’t even look as if they had to worry about playoffs when San Jose beat them 2-1 back on Jan. 20, tying the game in the final minute and winning on a power play in overtime. After sweeping the Canucks last season, that gave the Sharks an 11-3 goal advantage in the first three meetings of this season’s series. Vancouver lost another two games after that loss in San Jose, extending its losing skid to eight games, before going on the current 12-2 run.
“It’s night and day the way we were playing back then and now,” Bieksa said. “Last time it was almost like hanging on and playing not to lose. Now we have a kind of different attitude. We’re playing to win and not sitting back.”
The Canucks certainly weren’t sitting back early.
Edler opened the scoring on a delayed penalty 3:15 in, one-timing a hard slap shot through Alex Burrows’ screen and under before Boucher could get his pads down flush on the ice. Sundin doubled the lead less than three minutes later.
Left alone in front, Sundin took Pavol Demitra’s pass from behind the net, deked to his backhand and lifted it behind Boucher, ending a 10-game goal drought.
Vancouver had another apparent goal waved off 27 seconds later, as the whistle blew just before Burrows whacked in a puck sitting in front of Boucher’s pads.
“We came out and really wanted this game, we were physical, we were skating well and we were generating offense, which we haven’ the past couple of games against these guys,” said Ryan Kesler, who assisted on both goal and was the game’s first star. “We dominated a pretty good team over there.”
Brian Boucher, making his fifth straight start while No. 1 goalie Evgeni Nabokov recovers from a lower-body injury, made 26 saves for the Sharks, who remain tied with Detroit atop the Western Conference after losing four straight (0-3-1). But first-year Sharks coach Todd McLellan was more concerned about how his team is playing than its failure to move ahead of the Red Wings for first place.
“We weren’t prepared to play at the level we needed to play at,” McLellan said. “We have to talk to the leadership, but they have to be prepared night in and night out to compete and if this happens in the playoffs you have no chance of winning so you better start learning some lessons quickly.”
Missing injured forwards Jeremy Roenick, Mike Grier, Claude Lemieux, Torrey Mitchell and Marcel Goc, San Jose got Travis Moen into the lineup for his first game since acquiring him from Anaheim on Wednesday. But they lost Rob Blake to an apparent leg injury late in the second and, after trying one 18-second shift early in the third, the 39-year-old defenseman did not finish the game.
“He got hit with a puck, so I have no update,” McLellan said of Blake, second on the Sharks’ defense with 38 points “He’s obviously a little bit sore.”
Reminded he said winning was contagious when San Jose was steamrolling the NHL earlier this season, McLellan doesn’t see the losing skid the same way.
“What have we lost, five of the last six? I don’t think it’s a disease by any means,” he said. “We’re going through our piece of adversity. We’re learning how to deal with it.
Nabokov did not make the trip to Vancouver, but is expected to be join the Sharks when their three-game road continues Tuesday in Minnesota. The Canucks announced during the game that they would play an exhibition game Sept. 14 against the New York Islanders in Terrace. The town, about 500 miles northwest of Vancouver, gets to host the game after being chosen “Hockeyville 2009” as part of a contest on CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcasts. Game highlights will be broadcast in a one-hour special on CBC, and the community of Terrace, with a population of 11,320 in a 2006 census, receives $100,000 from contest co-sponsor Kraft Canada to be used for arena upgrades.