VANCOUVER - Nothing has come easy so far this National Hockey League season for the Vancouver Canucks. Not even their first win.
For the second straight game, the Canucks blew a two-goal lead, but this time managed to rebound and salvage a much-needed victory.
Alex Burrows and Zack Kassian scored in the shootout and goalie Cory Schneider bounced back with a strong performance as the Canucks clipped the Calgary Flames 3-2 Wednesday night at Rogers Arena to close out a season-opening three-game homestand that yielded three of a possible six points.
That sound you hear is the collective sigh of relief coming from the Vancouver dressing room.
“You can’t start with three at home and come up empty-handed in the win column,” Schneider said. “Sometimes that first one is the hardest one and once you get it your team settles down a little bit and you get on a roll and that’s what we are hoping we can do here as we head out on the road.
“We are by no means satisfied, we can obviously improve ourselves individually and as a team. Like I said, we want to be a good road team again this year and hopefully we can get some points.”
The Canucks head out on the road for a three-game California swing with a record of 1-1-1. The Flames, meanwhile, have lost all three of their games this season under new coach Bob Hartley.
Schneider stopped 34 of 36 shots and turned in just the kind of performance he needed after his shaky start in Saturday night’s opener against the Anaheim Ducks.
“It was extremely important,” Schneider said. “I had to have a bounce-back game. I had to show myself and my teammates that the first game was a fluke.”
Kassian, playing his first full game with the Sedin twins, had a terrific game. He scored Vancouver’s first goal on a brilliant individual effort and then scored the winner in a shootout that went five rounds. He looked right at home playing with the twins and was named the game’s first star.
“From the management, from the coaches, I definitely feel more comfortable and as a player the more comfortable you feel the better you play,” Kassian said.
“I thought he was great,” added Canuck captain Henrik Sedin. “He’s a big body and when he has confidence he can make a lot of plays himself. I’m happy for him.”
Kassian opened scoring at 6:20 of the second period, finishing off a terrific individual effort. Kassian got the puck behind the net and almost scored on a wraparound. But the puck bounced back to him and after his first shot was blocked by Calgary defenceman Mark Giordano, Kassian put the rebound past Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff for his second of the season.
“The puck kept coming back to me,” Kassian said of the play. “It finally went into the back of the net.”
Two minutes later, Mason Raymond made it 2-0 with a nice shot from the slot on a Vancouver power play.
At that point the Canucks held a 25-9 edge in shots and seemed to be in complete control. But the momentum then seemed to shift very much the Flames’ way.
“I thought we were really tight defensively and had a lot of pressure on them in the first half of the game and then you run into penalty trouble and they get the momentum back,” Schneider said. “They were really buzzing in the second half of the second and in the third.”
The Flames cut the Vancouver lead in half at the 11-minute mark when Alex Tanguay rattled a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle off the far post and past Schneider.
The Canucks managed to kill two consecutive 5-on-3 Calgary power plays late in the second, but shortly after the second one expired Mikael Backlund scored off the rush. He took a pass from Jarome Iginla and put his shot from the slot off the same post and past Schneider at 16:03. Kiprusoff earned the second assist on the goal.
Schneider didn’t have much to do until late in what was a scoreless first period. The Canucks did a nice job of bottling up the Flames and at one point had a 10-2 advantage in shots. But Calgary almost scored in the final minute.
Schneider made a terrific right pad save on a Jarome Iginla backhand from in close and then stopped Tanguay on the rebound.
The Flames also came close at the 10-minute mark when a Jay Bouwmeester shot from the left point deflected off Vancouver defenceman Alex Edler and rattled off the crossbar.
The Canucks’ best chance came at the 12-minute mark when Alex Burrows found Jannik Hansen behind the Calgary defence. But Hansen’s shot was stopped by Kiprusoff.
Schneider stopped four of the five Calgary shooters in the shootout.
“I was excited for the shootout,” he said. “I enjoy them, I really like them and I have a lot of confidence in our shooters. You saw a couple of real nice moves there and it’s fun having the game on the line. You have to make a save to keep it going and that’s an opportunity I relish.”
ICE CHIPS: Each team had 36 shots on goal ... The Canucks are scheduled to practise today in Vancouver and then travel to Anaheim, where they begin a three-game road trip on Friday night. That game will be the Ducks’ home opener ... That trip continues Sunday night in San Jose and Monday night in Los Angeles.
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