The American Express line is back together again and flying for the Vancouver Canucks.
Ryan Kesler, Chris Higgins and David Booth played a key role Thursday as the Canucks beat Winnipeg 3-2 to interrupt a strong playoff drive by the Jets.
Higgins, from Smithtown, N.Y., moved up to rejoin his linemates from the Detroit area after playing on the third line following his recovery from a bacterial infection.
“(Higgins is) one of the most underrated players in the game,” said Kesler, who scored the opening short-handed goal.
“He plays with a lot of energy. He has a great skill set. He's easy to play with. I love playing with the guy and I can't say enough about him.”
Higgins drew an assist and all three were on the ice when Alex Edler erased a 2-1 Winnipeg lead. Edler drifted a shot toward the net and the puck went in off Jet forward Blake Wheeler.
The line, which said before the game it wants to stay together, made a strong case after firing 16 of Vancouver's 45 shots on goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
“I thought we had a lot of opportunities,” Higgins said.
“We played with a lot of speed and played pretty direct. (Kesler) could have had a couple more goals, I could have had a couple more goals. Boothie was driving the net pretty hard. All the things that we need to keep doing.”
The Canucks won when Sammy Pahlsson, obtained at the trade deadline from Columbus for draft picks, took a drop pass and drilled a shot past screening defender Dustin Byfuglien.
Kyle Wellwood and Wheeler scored for Winnipeg.
Canuck coach Alain Vigneault praised Pahlsson but couldn't help noticing Kesler, who scored only his second goal in 13 games.
“Tonight he was skating,” Vigneault said. “Chris and David did a good job getting in the open.
“Chris is such a hard worker, he retrieves pucks, whether it be in our end or their end and seemed to complement each other very well.”
Kesler hit two posts and a crossbar in the opening 40 minutes.
“The puck was magnetized for me tonight,” he said.
Pahlsson's goal over Pavelec's glove and under the crossbar was only his third of a frustrating season.
“It hasn't been going in for me at all this season and of course it's nice to get the first one for the new team,” said the veteran Swede, who's cast in a defensive role.
“There's always pressure, pressure to score goals and do other things, but of course I want to score.”
The Canucks (42-18-8) righted themselves after losing twice at home — only the second time this season the Northwest Division runaway leaders have lost two straight in regulation.
Vancouver remained a point behind the Western Conference-leading St. Louis Blues in its bid to repeat as President's Trophy winners for the NHL's best record. The Blues beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 Thursday to give them a league-best 93 points.
The Jets (32-28-8) lost in regulation for only the second time in 10 games as they battle for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and the Southeast Division lead.
They stayed two points behind division-leading Florida, which lost to Philadelphia. However they were caught by Washington, which has a game in hand, in the battle for the final playoff berth in the East.
There were “Go Jets Go” chants from fans, many in Jets jerseys with the new logo. It was the first visit to Vancouver by a Winnipeg team since the old Jets lost 5-4 to Vancouver 16 years ago.
After Kesler opened the scoring, former Canuck Kyle Wellwood slid a puck behind Vancouver netminder Cory Schneider after it bounced off a defender's skate.
Wheeler gave Winnipeg a 2-1 lead in the third period when he went around a falling Edler and snapped a shot inside the far post.
But Edler made up for it when he scored to tie the game, then Pahlsson clinched it on a shot Pavelec couldn't see.
“It was over my shoulder,” Pavelec said. “Again, a turnover in the middle of the ice, and then they came to our zone, cut to the middle and it was too late to do something.”
The game was entertaining but Pavelec said the Jets got away from the formula that saw them go 6-1-2 in their last nine games.
“We can skate way better, make teams defend harder,” he said. “We don't really do that as much on the road.
“That's the big elephant in the room. At home we're flying around, the crowd's roaring, we're scoring goals. On the road we don't do the same things.”
Coach Claude Noel said his club didn't deserve a victory.
“We were lacking our good, solid play we've had in the past,” said Noel, whose club held Vancouver scoreless in the first period despite being outshot 20-11.
“Our will was there, I didn't think our energy was good in the first (period), and other than that we didn't play to the level we were playing at befor and that was the difference.
“You can't play a B-game against Vancouver, they are too good, too skilled.”
Notes: It was the only meeting between the two teams this season and the first game for Winnipeg since an eight-game homestand ... Jets forward Kyle Wellwood played 149 regular-season games over two campaigns for the Canucks while Tanner Glass played 140 ... Vancouver won 3-1 in Atlanta in 2011 when the Jets were the Thrashers.
Follow us on Twitter: