VANCOUVER – As storybook endings go, Andrew Ebbett could not have asked for a better one.
Playing his first game after missing 35 with a shattered collarbone, Ebbett scored the winning goal with 1:02 left in overtime as the Vancouver Canucks beat the Calgary Flames 3-2 on Saturday night.
After the goal, the entire Canucks bench erupted and rushed to congratulate their teammate, of whom they had not seen much until recently.
“My face is a little red, almost like a burn on there from all the guys,” Ebbett said with a laugh. “It was well worth it after a three-month comeback there.”
The Canucks (49-21-9) posted their sixth straight win—all without injured scoring star Daniel Sedin (concussion)—and moved into first place in the Western Conference.
They also gained a share of first place overall in the NHL. In the West, Vancouver moved ahead of the St. Louis Blues, who lost pace as a result of a loss to Columbus.
The Canucks and New York Rangers, who did not play Saturday, are tied for first place overall with 107 points each.
The Flames (35-29-16) meanwhile were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
“We came in here tonight mathematically still alive, but knowing our chances were very slim,” said Calgary coach Brent Sutter. “Our focus was to win the hockey game and, again, we came up short one more time.”
Ebbett deflected in defenceman Sami Salo’s shot from in front of the Calgary net.
“Just nice to get another shift in overtime,” said Ebbett. “Sami had his head up. It wasn’t his hardest shot but it was in the right spot and I just put my stick out there and just got a lucky bounce.”
The winger was playing his first game since he was sidelined by a hit by Dennis Seidenberg in Boston on Jan. 7. But he still produced his second game-winning goal of the season.
Ebbett, a 28-year-old from Vernon, B.C., was never drafted and shuffled through Anaheim, Minnesota, Chicago and Phoenix before signing with the Canucks as a free agent last summer.
He joined Vancouver hoping to rejuvenate his career, but he struggled to get into the lineup early in the season and then suffered a fractured foot that kept him out of 17 games. He was just starting to find his niche when he got hurt again in Boston.
“I’m very happy for the young man,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “He’s gone through some challenging circumstances this year with a couple injuries. To see him battle to get healthy, and nobody was sure if he’d be able to come back this year, but he found a way to get himself healthy and come into the lineup, and tonight he pushed his way into the lineup minutes and was able to get us a goal in OT.”
Max Lapierre and Marc-Andre Gragnani also scored for Vancouver.
Olli Jokinen and Mike Cammalleri scored for the Flames, who continued their habit of squandering a lead—an early 2-1 advantage in the third period.
“It could have went both ways,” said Calgary winger Alex Tanguay. “But in a year like this, it doesn’t seem that it’s going our way.”
The Canucks were blanked on two power-play chances while the Flames converted one of two. Vancouver outshot Calgary 34-33.
Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo returned to action after he missed a scheduled start Friday because of a stiff neck. Luongo said the Canucks were aware that St. Louis had lost 5-2 to Columbus and that they could leapfrog the Blues into first place.
“After the second (period) we were aware that they had lost,” he said. “Obviously it was a huge period for us coming in. Obviously we wanted to get the win and get first place. We found a way to get it done and it’s a nice win for the boys.”
Calgary goaltender Henrik Karlsson made his first start since he suffered a knee injury in Vancouver on Dec. 4. It was only his second appearance since then. He last played while mopping up for Miikka Kiprusoff in one period of action Feb. 21 against Edmonton.
Vancouver led 1-0 after the first period and the score was tied 1-1 after the second.
Lapierre opened the scoring 5:08 into the game as he took a Henrik Sedin pass off his skate and jammed it past Karlsson. It was Lapierre’s second goal in two games, coinciding with his move to the top line Friday.
“It’s a fun time right now, but at the end of the day I know what my role is,” said Lapierre, who has four points in the past two games. “It’s to play physical and good in my own zone, but I’ll take what’s going on right now.”
Jokinen created a 1-1 tie on a power play five and a half minutes into the second period as he put home a weak one-timer on a pass from Jarome Igina during a three-on-two rush. Then Cammalleri gave the Flames a 2-1 lead just 51 seconds into the third period as he one-timed a David Moss pass behind Luongo from about 10 feet inside the blue-line.
Gragnani created a 2-2 deadlock at 11:45 of the third as he slapped in a pass from Alex Burrows with Lapierre trying to set a screen in front of the net. The puck appeared to go in off Karlsson.
It was Gragnani’s first goal as a Canuck. He was acquired near the close of the Feb. 27 trading deadline as part of the deal that sent Cody Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres.
“I’m just trying to fit in and I think that’s what I did tonight,” said Gragnani.”
Notes: Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff needs two more games played for 600 in his career. All but 47 have come with the Flames. Before the Flames acquired him in December 2003, he was a third-stringer with San Jose. … Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa missed his third straight game due to what the coaching staff calls maintenance days. … With Ebbett back in the lineup, Dale Weise was a healthy scratch. … Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault hopes defenceman Keith Ballard, out with a concussion and neck injury since early February, can play a couple of games before the regular season ends.