It had been nearly three hours of hockey, 174 minutes 55 seconds, going back to last Saturday in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche, when the Vancouver Canucks last ceded a goal to an opponent.
On Friday night in Vancouver, battling a Dallas Stars team fighting for the playoffs, the Canucks finally were scored on, after two consecutive 1-0 wins at home earlier in the week. It took the Stars until the second period, with Steve Ott scoring on Canucks backup Cory Schneider, who was the unexpected starter after Roberto Luongo was aggravated by a stiff neck before the game.
Even as a playoff-hungry opponent was able to crack through Vancouver’s thick defence, and get a puck by its impenetrable-of-late goaltending – Luongo and Schneider have both been fantastic – a single goal was hardly enough to make the difference in the game, one in which Dallas badly needed a result to bolster its playoff position.
The Canucks, after barely scoring this week, delivered a flurry of goals and a big win, trumping the Stars 5-2. It is Vancouver’s fifth victory in a row, a pretty nice run that has made talk of a slump earlier in March a distant memory.
“I don’t think we played any different,” said captain Henrik Sedin of the win compared with the two previous 1-0 games. Sedin, who had three assists (and has a league-leading 63), said the Canucks capitalized on Stars’ miscues, which the team didn’t see against Colorado or L.A. earlier in the week.
What was definitely not different from recent outings was goaltending. Schneider knew he might get called to play and heard for sure after the pre-game warmup. Schneider then played very well, as he has all of 2012, and made a huge save on a two-on-one in the second when the game was tied at one, as Dallas centre Mike Ribeiro made a perfect pas to winger Loui Eriksson and Schneider hurtled himself across the crease, catching the puck on his toe blade. “Some times you reach,” said Schneider after the game, “and it hits you.”
Schneider is now 12-1-1 in 14 starts since Christmas. His save percentage is now a dizzying .937, the second-best among in the league behind Brian Elliot of St. Louis with .943.
Meanwhile, Luongo’s neck is all right, if a little sore. He would have started Friday if it had been a key game, said coach Alain Vigneault after the win, and will start Saturday if he is good to go.
For Dallas, the team is back where it was four days ago. On Wednesday morning, the Stars stood in seventh in the west. A win that night elevated them to first in the Pacific, and third in the West. As Dallas lost to Vancouver, the Los Angeles Kings beat Edmonton and L.A. reclaimed the Pacific lead, pushing the Stars back to seventh.
The next hurdle for Dallas is immediate, the rival San Jose Sharks on Saturday night, with the two playing again back in Dallas on Tuesday. Saturday, the second road game in two nights, will be a particular test. The Stars have fared badly on the back half of games on successive days this season, going 1-10-2.
The Canucks remain in second in the Western Conference, and third in the league, at 105 points, one behind St. Louis, and two behind leader New York Rangers. The team welcomes the Calgary Flames on Saturday night, a game that will have little meaning, as the Flames folded again, at home, losing 4-1 to Colorado.
The Flames are essentially out of the playoffs. The team has three games left, two against Vancouver, and number-crunching website sportsclubstats.com calculates that if Calgary wins its final three, it has only a 4-per-cent chance to squeak into the postseason.
The Canucks on Friday accomplished what they had aimed for, more scoring chances by taking more shots. “Keep shooting the puck,” in the words of associate coach Rick Bowness after a game-day skate earlier Friday.
The first period started slowly but the team found its rhythm in the second, when it responded to Dallas’s goal that tied the game 1-1 with a power-play goal, so rare in the past half-dozen games, and another even-strength notch late in the period.
With leading goal-scorer Daniel Sedin still out with a concussion – and maybe back for the first round starting April 11 – Vancouver’s first goal of the night was an example of what it will need to go deep in the playoffs, beyond strong goaltending and good D.
Six minutes into the game, it was more production from the Canucks’ recently reconstituted third line: Chris Higgins’s fourth goal in four games.
Driving in along the boards, as he has so often charged in recent games, Canucks winger Jannik Hansen was checked off the puck by Dallas defenceman Alex Goligoski. The puck drifting from his grasp, Hansen made a second push, reaching his stick to tap a back hand toward the centre of the ice where a streaking Higgins was poised. Higgins flicked the puck through the five hole of usually-stellar Kari Lehtonen, who was left looking back into his net as the red light lit.