NASHVILLE -- Once considered the Vancouver Canucks' cornerstone, Roberto Luongo has gone from franchise goalkeeper to a backup that the team tried and failed to trade earlier this month because of his long, cap-constricting contract.
But Luongo can still help a team win hockey games, as he did Monday night when Vancouver spent much of the second period snoozing against an injury-riddled Nashville team loaded with minor-league call-ups.
Making 17 of his 36 saves in the middle 20 minutes, Luongo kept the Canucks from falling behind and they eventually got righted to hand the Predators their seventh straight loss, a 5-2 decision at Bridgestone Arena.
Ryan Kesler scored twice for Vancouver (24-12-6), which stayed atop the Northwest Division and climbed into sole possession of third place in the Western Conference. Derek Roy, Jason Garrison and Alexandre Burrows also lit the lamp for the Canucks.
However, it was Luongo who saved Vancouver from what might have been a second straight loss to a nonplayoff team. After a 4-3 overtime defeat in Colorado Saturday, the Canucks established a 2-0 lead and then floundered for most of the second period.
"Lu made some big saves for us to be up by one after the second," Burrows said. "We turned the puck over way too many times and they came at us with speed. If it hadn't been for him, we would have been down by one."
It was the fourth straight win for Luongo, who's 9-4-3 as the backup to Cory Schneider. No Vancouver goalie has won more games (233) or compiled more shutouts (35), but it's unlikely he'll play a minute of the Stanley Cup playoffs unless Schneider is injured or fails.
However, Luongo is taking his new role as understudy in stride.
"I just try to be ready," he said. "You never know what's going to happen. The worst thing you can do is not be ready."
While the Canucks skated another stride closer to a division title, Nashville (15-21-8) was officially eliminated from the playoffs. The Predators, who haven't won since a 3-1 decision April 2 against Colorado, iced a lineup minus nine skaters from their season opener.
They looked lost in the game's first 4:34, yielding a power-play marker to Kesler at 1:34 and then a rebound goal to Roy exactly three minutes later, his first since being acquired from Dallas on April 2.
But Nashville roared to life in the second period, peppering Luongo with 19 shots and tying the game. Nick Spaling notched his eighth goal of the year off Sergei Kostitsyn's pass at 1:34, followed by Bobby Butler's third on a wrister from the right side at 11:40.
However, Garrison untied it at 17:04 with a slap shot from the blue line, six seconds after Hal Gill was sent off for roughing.
Vancouver iced it in the third with Burrows' deflection of a Daniel Sedin pass that upped the margin to 4-2 and Kesler's second goal of the night at 15:53.
"I thought the guys played good percentage hockey in the third period," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "We got off to a good start, but for some reason, we didn't play well in the second period. But we were able to win the game and that's the important thing."
Meanwhile, the Predators will sit out the postseason for just the second time in nine years and could end up with a top-five first-round pick if they keep losing.
"I don't think anyone's happy with what is going on this year," Gill said. "Right now, it's just a tough pill to swallow. You want to go out and give everything you've got every night and to play for nothing is tough."
Notes: Before the game, a moment of silence was observed for the victims of the explosions in Boston, which killed two and injured more than 130 ... Nashville called up defenseman Mattias Ekholm from Milwaukee of the AHL to replace Kevin Klein, who suffered an upper-body injury in Sunday night's 3-0 loss to Detroit. ... Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin played in his 622nd straight game, the second-longest current streak in the NHL behind St. Louis defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. ... The Predators have now lost more than 100 man-games to injury or illness this year, many coming in the last month.