Canucks bounce Flames to break into win column

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail

Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider, from left, Keith Ballard and Calgary Flames' Steve Begin watch the puck after Schneider made a save during second period NHL hockey game action in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday January 23, 2013. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

It was a game both teams really needed to win, trying to avoid opening this truncated season with a bad string of losses.

For the hosts, the last time the Vancouver Canucks had three games at home, it was spring, the first round of the playoffs, and the team lost all three, going down to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings.

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Facing the same situation on Wednesday night to start the regular season – having already lost at home in a blowout and a shootout – the Canucks came out with some fire, even if the energy was decidedly staccato in the early going against the visiting Calgary Flames, who themselves had opened this season with two losses and didn’t really conjure passion until later in the evening.

But on Wednesday, yet again, the Canucks managed to lose a lead, just like they gave up a 2-1 edge against Anaheim last Saturday before succumbing 7-3, and yielded a 2-0 advantage against Edmonton on Sunday to go down 3-2 in the shootout.

Against the Flames, Vancouver was up 2-0 at the match’s halfway point before Calgary scraped back, tying the game at two before the second was over. They were impressive goals by Calgary and hardly the fault of Vancouver starting goalie Cory Schneider, who, like his counterpart at the other end of the ice, Miikka Kiprusoff, was looking for redemption. Both delivered strong performances.

The third period was when the tilt really got electric, both teams firing up and down the ice – hungry, and desperate, for the win. It went to overtime, and then a shootout – which Vancouver won, to salvage the night 3-2 – the winning goal scored by Zack Kassian on the night before his 22nd birthday.

The Vancouver victory, even as it came after a brush with a third loss at home, was badly needed as the Canucks embark on their first road trip.

It’s a tough one, three games in four days in California, San Jose, an Anaheim rematch, and then a Monday night showdown against Vancouver’s West Coast bete noire, the Kings.

Wednesday night, at least, didn’t further ignite Vancouver’s goaltending question. Schneider wasn’t really tested until late in the first period, when he made several super saves to keep the game tied at zero. In the second he made a bunch more, even as Calgary tied the game, and played well in the third. Schneider, in overtime, then made a huge goal line pad save to help force the shootout.

Guessing which goalies get the nod to start on the road – given that coach Alain Vigneault doesn’t like the same man to play back-to-back nights – one would venture it will be Schneider against the Sharks and Kings, and Roberto Luongo in the crease for the Ducks.

The highlight of the evening had to be Kassian in the second. Kassian, who had been elevated to the first line to play with the Sedins, was fiery from the start of the game, making all sorts of impressive plays. His goal to open the scoring in the second elevated the effort to a dizzying level – and in one fell swoop surely made every Canucks fan forget all about the other budding young player, Cody Hodgson, who was sent to Buffalo last year for the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Kassian.

Kassian, at the side of the net, first showed patience beside Kiprusoff before darting behind the net, one step ahead of the veteran goalie, and nearly scored on a backhand wraparound, jamming the puck on the precipice of the post. Kassian got the puck back and, again after patience and tenacity, blew a wrist shot from the slot by Kiprusoff, the goal unassisted, his linemates – the Sedins – spectators for the impressive showing.

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