Earlier this season, Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo would have been seething with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Minnesota Wild.
The Canucks clinched their third Northwest Division title in four seasons with the Easter Sunday win over the Wild, but the manner with which these two points came hardly left a warm fuzzy feeling for those partial to defensive hockey. Minnesota scored twice in the final 42 seconds to force the extra session, after looking dead and beaten for most of the game.
"I'm not going to worry about it any more," Luongo said of Vancouver's propensity to score - and allow - goals in bunches. "I don't worry about what we give up, I can only worry about stopping the puck."
Luongo has referred to his team's "run-and-gun" style several times in the last several weeks, mentions that have coincided with an awful stretch of defensive play, and some miserable personal performances.
When he joined the franchise four years ago, the Canucks were about as airtight as NHL teams come on the defensive end, and there's no question that his stats and ego benefited. Asked if a no-lead-is-safe style can prevail in the Stanley Cup playoffs, which begin next week, the Canucks captain deadpanned: "It worked for Pittsburgh."
The Canucks will look to unseat the Penguins as NHL champions, and will get home-ice advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Vancouver solidified its hold on the Northwest, and the third seed in the conference, by getting to overtime. The team is almost certain to face one of three opponents in the first round: Detroit, Nashville or Los Angeles.
Sami Salo, who made a mistake on the tying goal, redeemed himself with a power-play goal midway through the overtime session. Ryan Kesler (shorthanded), Kyle Wellwood (on the power play), and Alexander Edler (into an empty net) also scored for the home team before the 300th consecutive sellout at GM Place.
"We played mostly solid," said Salo, "but there were some moments where we played too risky."
Cody Almond scored his first NHL goal after Edler's empty netter, and Antti Miettinen tied the game with 18 seconds remaining, after a failed Salo clearing attempt. The Canucks surrendered eight power-play chances, which negated a terrific defensive effort through nearly two periods, in which the Wild was held to just seven shots.
"The game should have been put away earlier," head coach Alain Vigneault said. "We do need to be more disciplined - without a doubt. That's key to playoff hockey."
Vigneault will use the three remaining games, including home contests against Colorado and Calgary, to sharpen his team's edges for the postseason. He said Luongo would start two games, with the other going to backup Andrew Raycroft.
The coach said he wouldn't rest older and banged-up players, but that he would dish out more opportunities and ice-time to players who typically play lesser roles.
He may also have to be cautious with defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, one of his best rearguards, who left the game in the third period with a knee injury that isn't expected to be serious.
"I don't think it's anything major," Vigneault said.
Luongo, meanwhile, was shaking his head at the number of times that Vancouver has needed comebacks, and played loose defensively over the last month. He entered the game with just one win in his last five starts, and was bombarded for eight goals in his last start, a lopsided loss to Los Angeles last week.
"We've got a good offence, and we're generating a lot of goals," Luongo said.
The captain made 24 saves against Minnesota, but admitted that the inactivity in the first two frames was difficult. Luongo was barely tested in the opening stanza, when the Wild had three shots, and through most of the second, until a late five-on-three disadvantage.
He said he was amenable to getting some rest this week, but Salo said he wanted to play all three games. The brittle defenceman said he missed the first three exhibition contests this year, and felt that hurt his preparations for the regular season. He doesn't want to feel that way before the playoffs.
"It isn't fatigue," Salo said. "That's not an issue."