Canucks' penalty kill helps top Hurricanes

David Droschak, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The NHL's top penalty-killing unit rebounded in a big way as the Vancouver Canucks stymied the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 Sunday afternoon.
Center Ryan Kesler had his third two-goal game of the season and rookie goalie Eddie Lack stopped 29 shots, but it was a stellar penalty kill that rescued the Canucks yet again.
Carolina was 0-for-6 with the man advantage as the Canucks grabbed a one-goal lead heading into the third and managed to hang on to improve to 14-10-5. Vancouver's stellar shorthanded performance came after allowing two power-play goals for the first time in five weeks against the New York Rangers in a 5-2 loss 24 hours earlier.
"We got back to what makes us successful," Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "There was a little bit of confusion Saturday where we tried to switch something to adjust to them. We kind of went back to the system that has been working all season long.
"We were really good on their entry passes. It didn't seem like they had many clean entries. When you are putting pucks back down the ice and they are turning around and chasing and trying it again they get tired and we wore them down."
During one shorthanded stretch that lasted 5:33 in the second period, the Canucks had 13 clears and have killed all but 12 of 98 opponent power-play chances through 29 games.
"It was uncharacteristic of us Saturday, but we bounced back," Kesler said. "We figured out quickly what we were doing wrong and we got back to the way we've been playing."
Vancouver was coming off a lopsided loss in which starting goalie Roberto Luongo was pulled in favor of Lack after allowing three goals on 10 shots against the Rangers.
In their second afternoon game in as many days, the Canucks grabbed an early two-goal lead as Kesler broke out of a slump in which he had registered just one goal and four assists in his last 11 games.
Lack received a little bit of luck in the win when Eric Staal's deflection with 9:12 left and the Canes, on the power play, rang off the inside of the post and back into the pads of the Vancouver goalie with a little help from Alexandre Burrows.
Beside a great penalty kill, the Canucks blocked 23 shots.
"They have a lot of guys who have been together for a while so they are in sync," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said of Vancouver's penalty kill. "But it's two things, it's desperation and it's execution. We've been talking about it for a long time but until our guys understand you have to play like our last shift where we all of the sudden we got desperate and we almost scored. When you get a chance, the guys have to execute, and if you can't execute, I guess then we've got to start looking for other guys in our lineup and give them the opportunity.
"Everyone runs the same plays -- no team different than another. It's a matter of getting the job done and doing it at a higher tempo and working on the PK and making your plays. I don't know, maybe some of our guys can't make the plays."
All the second-period scoring was contained within a span of 37 seconds as center Jordan Staal and left winger Nathan Gerbe scored 10 seconds apart for the Hurricanes less than one minute into the period to tie the score 2-2. However, 27 seconds after Gerbe's goal, Kesler was able to sneak the puck past Carolina goalie Cam Ward as the Canucks regained the lead for good.
"We wanted to gain the momentum back," Kesler said. "And there is no better way than scoring a goal. I'm happy we got one there."
The Hurricanes, who continue to struggle on offense, managed just four first-period shots -- three by the defense and one by fourth-liner Manny Malhotra. That occurred on the heels of a season-low 18 on net in a 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Friday night as the Canucks bolted to a 2-0 lead.
Kesler scored on a 5-on-3 less than a minute after heading off the ice when he was struck in the neck with the puck in front of Ward. The center posted his 11th of the season but just second in the last 12 games.
The Canucks went up by two late in the period when fourth-line left winger Tom Sestito tipped in a shot from defenseman Jason Garrison, who also assisted on the first goal. Former Carolina center Zac Dalpe posted the second assist on the goal as he started the give-and-go play with Garrison.
Notes: Carolina has been outscored 20-10 in the first period this season. ... Vancouver has notched a power-play goal in a season-best five straight games. ... Canucks C Zac Dalpe suited up for the first time against his former team after being a healthy scratch for the last seven games. ... Vancouver came into the game 9-4-2 against the Eastern Conference. ... Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin played in his 658th consecutive game. ... RW Jannik Hensen of Vancouver injured his right shoulder halfway through the first period when he got tangled with Carolina D Ryan Murphy and tumbled awkwardly into the boards. RW Alexandre Burrows left the ice bleeding in the second period when he was hit in the head with a clearing pass by D Christopher Tanev with Vancouver on the penalty kill. Both players later returned to the ice. ... Carolina C Eric Staal has points in eight of his last nine games.

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