NASHVILLE – Asked about his team's reckless, brainless moments in a second straight game, coach Alain Vigneault said the Vancouver Canucks have turned the page from Saturday. It didn't look like it on Monday.
The Nashville Predators, minus most of their top forwards and headed to a golf course near you in two weeks, overwhelmed the Canucks in the second period here the way the last-in-conference Colorado Avalanche collapsed the Canucks in the third period in Denver.
The difference Monday is the Canucks' wobbled but didn't topple, blowing a two-goal lead against the Predators before recovering their equilibrium and cognitive skills to muster a 5-2 win that nudged Vancouver closer to its fifth straight Northwest Division title and a home-ice start to the National Hockey League playoffs in two weeks.
That resiliency has become as much a trademark of the Canucks as their hard work and twin-driven attack. Resiliency is good. The Vancouver power play's two goals, which equalled the unit's productivity over a 20-game span in the middle of the season, was also encouraging. So was the decent debut of a newly-created second line that features Derek Roy on Ryan Kesler's wing. And long-suffering Roberto Luongo, more popular as a forlorn backup than he ever was as an entitled starter, made 36 saves Monday in what may turn out to be his final appearance for the Canucks.
These are all good things.
But if the Canucks can implode for periods at a time when pressured by weak teams like the Avalanche and Predators, what happens when they get to the playoffs and must face the Los Angeles Kings or San Jose Sharks or St. Louis Blues?
“The game would be over,” Canuck captain Henrik Sedin said. “Those teams are going to score on you. I would have loved to play against us in the second period today – 3-on-2s, 2-on-1s. Their defencemen don't have to do anything, never have to go back for the puck.
“We made the same mistakes. We turn pucks over, so our defencemen can't get their gap (against opposing forwards) and they get a lot of 3-on-2s. It was the same thing in the third period in Denver.”
And having fully debriefed after the 4-3 loss to the Avalanche and practised on Sunday, and discussed at length before Monday's game the need to take care of the puck and keep the opposition from encamping in the Vancouver zone, is a repeat of Saturday's mistakes on Monday cause for alarm with the playoffs on the horizon?
“I think it's something we have to address for sure,” Sedin said. “But it should be an easy fix. It's not like it's a systems problem or we're not competing or we don't have the players. It's focus.”
Well, it's not like the 48-game season is so long that the mind should wander.
“I wouldn't say it's cause for alarm,” Luongo said. “But obviously we've got to be aware what's going on out there. Come playoff time, I don't think periods like that are going to cut it to win a game, let alone a series. We're all aware of it in the locker room and we want to address it as quickly as possible and correct it.”
They addressed it again after the second period, when the Canucks were outshot 19-10 by a team that had lost six straight games, blew a 2-0 advantage then recaptured the lead on a power play created by an epic shift by Alex Burrows and Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
The Canucks were a different team in the third, moving the puck out of their end and through the neutral zone, forcing the Predators to play some shifts in their zone, and getting insurance goals from Burrows and Kesler.
Kesler also scored on a power play in the first period, when Roy counted his first goal as a Canuck in the sixth game since his trade from Dallas.
Up 2-0 against the Predators, ravaged by injury and playing on pride, should have been all the Canucks needed. But they unraveled in the second period, surrendering markers to Nick Spaling and Bobby Butler, whose combined career total of NHL goals is 45.
“The game in Denver, we've turned the page on that,” Vigneault said. “We've moved on. For whatever reason, our play wasn't what it should be in the second. But I thought Hank's line responded real well. They had that shift that enabled us to go on the power play and score what ended up being the winning goal.”
The Sedins played catch with the puck and were stopped twice by Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne on a marathon shift that ended with Predator defenceman Hall Gill cuffing Burrows to the ice after a prolonged battle behind, beside and in front of the net.
Six seconds later, after a faceoff win by Andrew Ebbett, Jason Garrison's comet from the blueline at 17:02 restored the lead and the flow of oxygen to the brain of Canuck players and a couple of million of their fans back home.
Breathe deeply. The Canucks play the Blues tonight in St. Louis.
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