If the Canucks had been struggling to find motivation late in this season, there was plenty to be had in Saturday night’s date with the Calgary Flames. First, a victory would allow them to leapfrog the St. Louis Blues and take over sole possession of 1st place in the Western Conference. Second, a victory would officially eliminate the Flames — who objectively suck — from postseason contention. Third, Andrew Ebbett was back. Andrew Ebbett! That dude looks like Chris Martin from Coldplay. How can you not be motivated by that?
Sure enough, the Canucks rode the wave of motivation to a victory, jumping into 1st in the West, banishing the Flames to the irrelevance from whence they came, and letting Andrew Ebbett lead them to victory, like Moses (if Moses looked like Chris Martin from Coldplay). Also, a fourth important thing happened: I watched this game.
Canucks 3 – 2- Flames (OT)
Fresh from his 3-point night Friday versus the Dallas Stars, Maxim Lapierre provided further evidence that Alain Vigneault’s got the goods when it comes to giving French checkers a makeover to turn them into star wingers. (AV is like the Freddie Prinze Jr. of the NHL.) Lapierre opened the scoring, kicking Henrik Sedin’s backhand saucer pass to his stick at the crease, then jamming the puck underneath Henrik Karlsson. But let’s give some credit to Karlsson, who helpfully neglected to pin his left pad flat to the ice, leaving room for the puck to squeak through. In effect, Lapierre’s goal was enabled by two Henriks, which, when you think about it, should feel nice and familiar to Canucks fans.
This was, to my eyes, Marc-Andre Gragnani’s best game as a Canuck. The guy spent most of the night paired with Alex Edler, and he didn’t look out of place at all. Speaking of familiar sights, while Gragnani’s been compared to Keith Ballard, he looked more like Christian Ehrhoff, playing his off-side, finding passing lanes, roaming in every zone like a bad cell phone, and initiating action like a slow sax riff.
Gragnani has really thrived in an increased role over the past two nights, putting three shots on goal in both games and, Saturday, scoring his first goal as a Canuck midway through the third period. Henrik Sedin made this play, as he often does. Sandwiched by Scott Hannan and Blake Comeau while trying to maintain control of the puck, Henrik moved it to Alex Burrows by kicking it like Q-tip. Then Burrows found Gragnani, who whistled it home like Walter in The Muppets.
Chris “Kiss Huggins” Higgins had another amazing game, with a game-high six shots, a breakaway, and a ton of other chances besides. I know some might scoff at this, but I think playing with Samme Pahlsson has something to do with the uptick in chances we’re seeing out of him. Have you noticed Higgins is getting a lot of breakaways all of a sudden? A lot of his chances are coming off opposition turnovers and quick possession changes. That’s Pahlsson’s bag.
Henrik Karlsson supplied our childish chuckle of the night when the cameras caught him moving some things around in his shorts during a stoppage. In his defense, Chris Higgins had just been on the ice. These days, after a Higgins shift, we all need to adjust.
Goaltending controversy update: Roberto Luongo was the best Canuck goaltender tonight. He made 31 more saves than Cory Schneider, and looked much more involved the game. Okay, sarcasm aside, with the exception of the Olli Jokinen goal where I didn’t quite care for his post-to-post movement, I thought Luongo was brilliant. As for Michael Cammalleri’s one-timer, there’s no stopping that shot. It’s a missile, and the only way to stop a missile is by having the Iron Giant collide with it way, way, way up in space.
Chris Tanev saw a career-high 23:03 of icetime. He and Dan Hamhuis were incredible. In keeping with their personalities, they were the lowest low-key pairing possible. You could hardly make them out. They were operating at baleen whale frequencies.
All the Canucks had a rough night in the faceoff circle, save Manny Malhotra, who won more draws than an expert at Hogan’s Alley. Malhotra went 12-for-15 on the night. Let’s give some love to Pahlsson, too. While he was only 4-for-12, he was 4-for-7 against Olli Jokinen, the Flames’ only real offensive threat up the middle. I mean, sure, Pahlsson lost all 3 draws he took versus Matt Stajan, but that may have been on purpose. Giving Matt Stajan the puck is a smart defensive strategy.
You had to feel for Jannik Hansen on the flubbed breakaway that led to the Flames’ second goal. In alone, he tried to deke to the backhand, but had the puck roll off his stick. Then he threw the puck blindly into the neutral zone, only to put it right on the stick of Jarome Iginla, who centered to Olli Jokinen for a one-timer goal. Basically, it was the worst breakaway of all time. The best breakaway of all-time? The Kelly Clarkson one.
Maybe Zack Kassian took a little confidence boost from the assist he picked up Friday, because he played a much stronger game Saturday. He was rewarded too, promoted to Ryan Kesler’s wing along with Andrew Ebbett for the back half of the third period while David Booth and Mason Raymond were benched. (The duo saw just over a minute of icetime in the third, and neither saw the ice after the 8:00 mark). This is good news for Kassian. If you’re the guy that gets promoted when Raymond is having an off- night, you’re gonna get promoted a fair bit.
In overtime, Vigneault trimmed the trio of Kesler, Kassian and Ebbett to a duo of just Kesler and Ebbett, hoping to catch some of that magic from the last time Andrew Ebbett scored an overtime goal. It worked, as Ebbett redirected Sami Salo’s point shot past Karlsson to win the game for the Canucks. He was instantly mobbed by the team. During the scrum, they all took the opportunity to relearn who he was.
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