VANCOUVER – A better effort produced the same the result for the Vancouver Canucks.
Martin St. Louis scored his first goal with the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist made 34 saves Tuesday as New York defeated Vancouver 3-1.
It was another frustrating night for the Canucks, who are all but assured of missing the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.
Coming off a demoralizing 5-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, the Vancouver players showed the fight they have been preaching in the locker-room, but were unable to translate that effort into a result on the scoreboard.
“I thought we should have won this game but it doesn’t matter right now,” said Canucks forward Daniel Sedin. “We are where we are because we’ve been on the wrong side of these kind of games throughout the season.”
Where the Canucks are is 10th in the Western Conference, six points back of the final wild-card berth with just five games left on their schedule. While the team has not been mathematically eliminated, the website sportsclubstats.com currently pegs Vancouver’s chances of making the playoffs at zero.
“It’s always difficult. You battle all year to play in the playoffs and work to get a chance to play in the playoffs. That’s what it’s all about,” said Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows. “When you’re on the outside looking in you’ve got to keep playing and be a pro and work for each other.”
Daniel Carcillo and Benoit Pouliot had the other goals for New York (43-30-4), which has won seven of its last eight games and sits comfortably in an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Ryan Kesler replied for Vancouver (34-32-11), while Eddie Lack finished with 28 saves.
“I think good teams find a way to win and right now we’re not finding that way,” said Kesler. “I’m not saying that we’re not a good team, we’re just not getting the job done.”
The game marked the regular-season return of Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault to Rogers Arena. Vigneault coached in Vancouver for seven seasons, winning six division titles and leading the Canucks to within a victory of the 2011 Stanley Cup.
The Canucks fired Vigneault last summer after the club’s first-round playoff exit and replaced him with John Tortorella after the latter was axed by the Rangers. The flip flop of coaches has worked out much better for New York, with Vancouver limping towards an uncertain off-season.
The Rangers led 2-1 after two periods and St. Louis, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Tampa Bay Lightning, put the game out of reach while killing a penalty at 10:15 of the third.
Vancouver defenceman Yannick Weber dove trying to keep the puck in at New York’s blue-line but failed to do so, allowing Rick Nash and St. Louis to race the other way on a 2-on-1. Nash fed a perfect pass to St. Louis, who ripped his 30th of the season and first in 15 games since joining the Rangers.
“I love to score goals, everyone loves to score goals, and 15 games plus the two prior to coming here, that’s as long a drought as I have had in a while,” said St. Louis. “There is a lot of things playing against you a little bit with a new team and new environment, but you try to stay the course, play the right way and find that fine line of anticipating and not cheating.
“I feel like I am getting more comfortable finding that line.”
Vigneault said the commitment to defence shown by star players like St. Louis and Nash allows him to put them on a penalty kill that has 10 short-handed goals this season, and three in the last two games.
“Those guys are willing to do that it takes to kill penalties, which is get in lanes and block shots and have good sticks and it’s paid off,” said Vigneault.
The Canucks trailed 2-0 after the first period but showed fight in the second for the embattled Tortorella, with Kesler cutting the Rangers’ lead in half at 6:21.
Sedin grabbed the puck off an offensive zone faceoff and found Kesler in the slot, who snapped his 24th of the season through a surprised Lundqvist.
“I thought it was a good hockey game. I thought we played better through the game than the other night (against Anaheim),” said Tortorella. “I thought our team played hard. We don’t score. They score three, we score one.”
The Rangers grabbed a 1-0 lead at 4:59 of the first when Carcillo banged home his fourth of the season on a play that had the Canucks fuming. Lack appeared to have the puck covered but Rangers forward Brian Boyle jarred it loose moments before the goal.
“I felt like I had it under my glove and then I get a pitchfork and I lost it and they scored,” said Lack. “(The ref) said that he was going to look at it after.”
New York stretched the lead to 2-0 at 14:43 on the power play. Lack made a great blocker save on Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello, but the puck bounced to Derick Brassard, who in turn fed a wide open Pouliot for his 13th.
“No whining. We lost. We’re losing,” said Tortorella. “We’ve just got to keep on trying to get better.”
Notes: Burrows was assessed a five-minute penalty for elbowing on Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh late in the third period. McDonagh appeared to be in some discomfort as he left the ice, but Vigneault did not provide an update after the game. … New York set a franchise record with its 25th road victory of the season. … The Rangers and Canucks played during the pre-season at Rogers Arena in September. The Canucks honoured Vigneault on the videoboard during that game, but did not pay tribute to their former coach on Tuesday.
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