What Road Trip Hangover?
Everyone says that the first game back from a long road trip is usually a let down. Just don't tell that to the Vancouver Canucks. After finishing their 14-game odyssey, where the Canucks went 8-5-1, with a shootout loss to the Phoenix Coyotes the Canucks returned home on Saturday night prepared for a weekend back to back set with the Ottawa Senators and divisional rival, Calgary Flames.
Vancouver's return to General Motors Place was a raucous one considering the last hockey game before that had a bit of significance to Canadian hockey fans across the nation. The Canucks came out blazing, riding high from their road trip, and scoring a rare ice breaker goal. In the second period they essentially buried the Senators out scoring their Eastern Canadian counterparts 3-1. Sami Salo scored in the third to put the game out of reach 5-1. Canucks coach, Alain Vigneault, began resting his top players in preparation for Sunday's huge divisional match up with hated foes from Calgary.
With the Calgary Flames in desperation mode sitting in 9th place and out of the playoff picture each game is very important. The Canucks were playing their 8th game in 13 nights coming off the Olympic break, second of a back to back, while the Flames had two nights off to prepare. But it was the Canucks that came out guns firing scoring just under two minutes into the game on a Daniel Sedin goal from, whoelse, brother Henrik. This was a milestone goal for Henrik as the assist moved him into first in franchise assists ahead of Trevor Linden.
The Canucks did not let off the gas pedal as Alex Burrows brilliantly set up Ryan Kesler for a one time shot in the high slot to beat Miikka Kiprusoff and put the Canucks up by 2. The goal also extended Kesler's league leading point streak to 13 games. The Canucks would strike once more on a 2-man advantage when Henrik Sedin banged in a rebound past the Finnish netminder to give Vancouver a commanding 3-0 lead after the first.
Calgary bench boss Brent Sutter decided to pull Kiprusoff in the second for Vesa Toskala. You could smell blood in the water for Vancouver Canucks fans. Unfortunately, the hectic schedule and lengthy road trip finally caught up with the Canucks as they hit a wall physically. The team looked drained and it showed. After out shooting the Flames 20-6 in the first, a period that could have seen the Canucks up by 5 or 6 goals had it not been for Kiprusoff, Vancouver was out shot 27-8 in the final two frames including being held shotless in the third. However, Roberto Luongo played like he should holding the Flames at bay before finally being beaten by a Robyn Regehr point shot in the third to end his shutout bid. The Canucks managed to hang on to win 3-1 and put a potential dagger into the heart of the Flames playoff hopes.
The Canucks are now 6-1-1 coming off the Olympic break and are slowly working on solidifying a playoff berth and a potential second straight Northwest division title. The Colorado Avalanche still sit second in the Northwest with 84 points, 5 behind Vancouver, but with a game in hand.
Next up for the Canucks are the New York Islanders on Tuesday at G.M. Place. The last time these two teams met was early last season where the Islanders defeated the Canucks 2-1 in a shootout. Frans Nielsen scored the only goal in the shootout for New York. Vancouver has been very strong against the Eastern conference this year going 13-4 including wins against all current division leaders, Washington, Pittsburgh and Buffalo.