Logan Couture had a look of disbelief.
With 20 two-goal games in the NHL, but no hat tricks, the San Jose centre had just missed Vancouver’s empty net by inches with his team up 3-1 in the final minute.
Thanks to an icing call and a Sharks timeout, he got another chance and made no mistake.
Couture recorded the first three-goal game of his career Tuesday as San Jose defeated Vancouver 4-1 to send the Canucks to their ninth straight loss.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Couture. “A lot of close calls. It was nice to get it out of the way.”
Couture’s last three shifts timed in at over a minute, with the last one running 90 seconds, as the Sharks desperately tried to get him his third.
“I was going to go to the bench to change and everyone was telling me to stay on the ice,” said Couture, a veteran of 426 NHL contests. “I was going to be out there for the rest of the game regardless of what happened.”
The goals snapped a 10-game drought for Couture, who missed a big chunk of the season with a broken leg that was followed by surgery to repair internal bleeding.
“We’re a different team with him in the lineup,” said Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer. “We missed him.”
Joe Pavelski added a goal and an assist, while James Reimer made 23 saves for San Jose (43-28-6), which clinched a playoff spot a night earlier with 5-2 home victory over the Los Angeles Kings. Brent Burns chipped in with two assists.
Chris Higgins replied for Vancouver (27-36-13), which is 0-8-1 during its current slide.
Jacob Markstrom stopped 27 shots in the loss.
The Sharks, who host the Canucks on Thursday, sit third in the Pacific Division, two points back of the Anaheim Ducks and three adrift of L.A.
Limping towards the finish line of a lost season that will see them miss the playoffs for the second time in three years, Vancouver sits 28th in the overall standings, tied for the fewest points (67) with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers.
Without a number of injured regulars, the Canucks have been forced to go with their youngsters as they play out the string.
“I think we’re more structured, we play within the system, and that’s when we can start talking about execution,” said Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin. “We’re missing a few passes, break-out passes are off ... we’re not making the passes on the tape. At least now we can start talking about those things.”
After a scoreless first period where the Canucks had opportunities to grab the lead, Pavelski got San Jose on the board 20 seconds into the second. Burns’ point shot hit Markstrom’s glove and bounced off Pavelski, who swept home his 37th of the season.
Higgins, who was recalled from the AHL earlier this month after getting demoted in January, scored his third of the campaign and first since Nov. 8 when he ripped a shot over Reimer’s glove for a short-handed goal at 6:21 to tie things 1-1.
“Just getting back in this locker-room, I didn’t think I’d see the day. Just a nice moment for me,” said Higgins. “It’s a different feeling for me for sure, personally. I’m having fun. I’ve been through a lot with a lot of guys in the locker-room.”
The goal came with Vancouver down a man after rookie forward Jake Virtanen was assessed a five-minute interference penalty and a game misconduct for a blindside hit on Sharks defenceman Roman Polak.
“It was late, blindside,” said Sedin. “What I saw, I don’t think he hit his head, but again, it was a late hit.”
Couture restored San Jose’s lead with 11 seconds left in the period when he created a turnover behind the net and slid his 11th of the season past Markstrom after a nice kick pass from Nick Spaling.
“He could have had six or seven goals in the last three or four games, he’s just been a little snake bit,” DeBoer said of Couture. “It’s a good time of year for him to get the monkey off his back.”
The Canucks had a power play early in the third, but Reimer made a couple of nice stops to keep the visitors in front before Vancouver rookie Jared McCann sent a backhand over the net a few minutes later.
Couture then beat Markstrom between the legs on a 5-on-3 man advantage with 5:59 left with his 12th and completed that elusive hat trick into an empty net with 16.4 seconds remaining on the clock.
“It was big to get the lead going into the third,” said Couture. “We’re pretty good at locking games down.”Report Typo/Error