Mike Santorelli continued his rise from the NHL’s scrap heap with a flourish Sunday night.
Santorelli, who was signed as free agent by Vancouver in the off-season after being cast adrift by three other NHL clubs, scored two goals and added an assist as the Canucks beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-1.
“It feels nice to, for sure, a lot of us have been sniffing around (the net) and our line played great tonight,” said Santorelli.
The 27-year-old Vancouver native was drafted by the Nashville Predators in the sixth round (178th overall) in 2004, but spent much of his four seasons with them in the minors and failed to stick with Florida and Winnipeg while also playing briefly in Sweden during the NHL lockout last season.
But Santorelli, who joined Vancouver on a two-way contract, now has eight goals on the season, easily surpassing the two he produced with Florida last season while splitting the campaign with the Panthers and Jets. And, he is just one shy of the nine goals that he had in 60 games with Florida in 2011-12.
“He was our best player by far tonight in all areas,” said Canucks coach John Tortorella.
The Canucks (17-10-5) posted their fifth win in sixth games and moved within a point of the upstart Avs (20-8-0) in the tight Western Conference standings.
“I honestly felt we played a better game than them and, unfortunately, we have nothing to show for the result,” said Colorado coach Patrick Roy. “But, I mean, Luongo was good. Both goalies were good, actually.”
Ryan Kesler also scored for the Canucks, who were outshot 29-21 by the Avalanche.
Jamie McGinn replied for Colorado with only 7.1 seconds left in the game. As a result, Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo was denied the 65th shutout of his career and a chance to move within one of tying Roy, who ranks 14th all-time in NHL history.
“If you ask me about the goal I am going to snap,” Luongo said with a laugh. “It’s all right, that stuff happens. We’ll take the two points and move on.”
The Canucks goaltender improved his record on the season to 14-8-5.
Colorado goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, 36, lost for the first time in eight decisions this season. The Avs suffered only their third loss in the past nine games.
Giguere’s 7-0-0 start to the season was a career best as well as a Colorado franchise goaltending record.
“I didn’t think we played terribly bad,” said Giguere. “But I don’t think it was our best effort, either. I don’t think it was, overall, a great effort by either team. It was kind of a grind-it-out type of game, and they got the two goals in the third. We just couldn’t recover from that.”
The Canucks, criticized by Tortorella following Friday’s overtime win over Phoenix for an ongoing inability to finish out wins, broke open a tight game with two goals in the third period.
Kesler put the Canucks ahead 2-0 at 1:32 of the second period as he tucked in Santorelli’s rebound while standing alone beside the net. The goal was Kesler’s fifth goal in his past four games and 15th in 32 total games this season, putting him just seven shy of the 22 he mustered in 77 contests in 2011-12. He has already surpassed the measly four he scored in an injury-plagued and lockout-shortened 2013 campaign.
About five minutes later, Santorelli beat Giguere with a high shot while using linemate Chris Higgins as a decoy on a 2-on-1.
Vancouver’s third-period onslaught came after Colorado’s Holden beat Luongo with a high slapper, but hit the crossbar with just over three minutes left in the second.
The Canucks’ second line of Santorelli, Kesler and Higgins, who had two assists, accounted for all of Vancouver’s goals.
“They are two unbelievable players to play with and it’s nice playing with two guys like that,” said Santorelli. “You learn a lot from them. We are communicating with each other on the bench and letting each other know where we are and things like that, and it’s been fun.”
Vancouver was blanked on three power plays, marking the first time in eight games that they have not scored with the man-advantage. Colorado had one power play.
Giguere was not perturbed by the end of his unbeaten string.
“These are just stats for you (media) guys to talk about,” said Giguere. “It was nice, but I try to go in there and compete every day and, unfortunately, losing is part of the game, too. I’m just gonna regroup and get ready for the next chance that I get to play.”
McGinn spoiled Luongo’s shutout after Roy pulled Giguere in favour of an extra attacker for most of the last five minutes.
“We pulled the goalie with five minutes left in the game for us as coaches to show our players that we (don’t) quit,” said Roy.
Luongo joked that Roy pulled his goalie early to prevent him from getting close to the Hall of Famer’s shutout total.
“There’s no danger there,” said Roy. “He’ll pass me there, for sure.”
Luongo won’t have to wait long for another chance to tie Roy. The Canucks host Carolina on Monday while Colorado heads home to meet Phoenix on Tuesday.
Notes: The Canucks recalled defenceman Yannick Weber from Utica of the AHL earlier Sunday. He adds further depth following Alex Edler’s undisclosed injury and coach John Tortorella’s comment that Andrew Alberts’ play “scares” him. a Edler sat out his second consecutive game. a This season marks the first since the former Quebec Nordiques franchise relocated to Colorado that the Avs and Canucks are not competing in the same division.