Goals complement grit as Cowan leads Canucks past Lightning

He had the second two-goal performance of his eight-year career Tuesday to lead the Vancouver Canucks past the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-1.

“I think so,” Cowan told a media crush when asked if he now expects to score rather than wonder if he’ll ever find the net again.

“I finally got the one off my back that I hadn’t had in a while and it’s nice to play with a little confidence.”

Cowan, picked up on waivers from the Los Angeles Kings for toughness, has five goals in three games for the Canucks to complement his grit.

While he fell one goal short of a hat trick for the second straight game, a female fan threw a bra in his direction as Cowan took a curtain call as the game’s third star.

“I saw it and I don’t know what I’m supposed to say about that,” chuckled coach Alain Vigneault. “I usually got something to say about everything, but that one, I’m not sure.”

Cowan, wearing a sweat-streaked ball cap for the TV cameras, has been named a star for each of the last three games.

“I don’t know that it’s ever happened before,” he said of his sudden success. “It’s been a great feeling and hopefully we can keep this thing going.”

Coming to the Canucks was like catching a lifeline after the humbling experience of being waived.

“It’s been a great fit,” he said. “Being placed on waivers was a tough time and not knowing what’s going to happen … it was nice to be picked up by Vancouver and I’m just trying to take advantage of it.”

Cowan, who has moved up from fourth-line grinder to play with speedy Brendan Morrison and Matt Cooke, opened and closed the scoring.

He went hard to the net in the first period to take Morrison’s pass on the doorstep of John Holmqvist and jam it past the Tampa Bay goalie.

In the third he snapped home Jan Bulis’s backhand pass.

“He’s carried the team for three games,” said captain Markus Naslund. “He’s scoring the timely goals and he’s working hard and he’s doing all the things you expect and more.”

Defenceman Kevin Bieksa scored what proved to be the winner after a clever behind-the-back pass from Daniel Sedin.

“I’m surprised he even saw me,” Bieksa said of his career-high 11th goal of the season and third in seven games.

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“He kind of made his play and his first pass got blocked but he picked it up and he still kind of knew that I was coming so I didn’t have to do much.”

Sedin, who hit the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career, and Bryan Smolinski, added at the trading deadline, also scored for the Canucks.

Vincent Lecavalier, with his league-leading 44th goal, was the only Lightning to beat Roberto Luongo who faced only 17 shots to tie the franchise record of 38 victories set in 1991-92 by Kirk McLean.

The Canucks (39-22-5) won their third straight game to continue a run that has seen them go 22-4-4 since Christmas.

The result left them two points ahead of the second-place Calgary Flames and four clear of the Wild in the Northwest Division.

The Lightning lost their second straight game and third in their last four to fall to 37-27-4 and into second place, two points behind the Atlanta Thrashers in the Southeast Division.

“In the second (period), we kind of got sloppy and ended up giving up the early goal in the third,” said Lightning points leader Martin St. Louis.

“That was tough. Then, five-on-three (for 1:01 in the third), we didn’t get it done. We could have made it 2-2 and they get that fourth goal on the power play.

“Seventeen shots against Luongo is just not good enough.”

Luongo, who is lobbying to play every game down the stretch and who had faced up to 50 Tampa Bay shots when he played for the Florida Panthers, almost had the night off.

“We played a great game defensively but in those kind of situations it kind of works you on the mental side more than the physical side,” he said.

Notes: Tampa Bay is the third-least penalized team in the league, averaging 10.8 minutes a game. … The Lightning continue their season-high six-game road trip Wednesday night in Edmonton. … Tampa Bay and Vancouver met for the first time in three years. … The Canucks won the last contest 5-4 in overtime when Naslund had two goals and two assists.