VANCOUVER – Eddie Lack helped the Vancouver Canucks overcome a case of the blues Wednesday night.
Lack made 20 saves for his third shutout of the season as the Canucks blanked the St. Louis Blues 1-0 in the first post-Olympic game for both teams night.
The win was like sweet music to the Canucks (28-24-9) as they ended their losing streak at seven games while moving into sole possession of eighth place in the Western Conference. The Blues (39-13-6) dropped their third straight decision to Vancouver this season as they were shut out for the first time in 2013-14.
“It feels very good to be able to shut the door,” said Lack. “It was very big for our team. “It’s a big relief.”
The Canucks outshot the Blues 35-20, but Lack, Vancouver’s backup who is in his first full NHL season, was forced to make many difficult saves.
“I feel like I have been working on this start for a while and I was really excited to play, and Rollie (Melanson, Vancouver’s goalie coach) has been bugging me for weeks saying we need to win these 1-0 games, so it’s huge,” said Lack.
Jannik Hansen scored the game’s only goal as he finally broke a scoreless deadlock at 11:13 of the third period. He took a backhand stretch pass from Tom Sestito from deep in the Vancouver zone just past centre ice, raced in on a breakaway and beat Halak with a high shot.
It was Hansen’s first goal in just over a month, a span of eight games, after he last scored Jan. 26 against Phoenix.
“Great play by Tommy, he could see I was taking off a little early and he fed me a nice pass, and I was able to get it through the goalie,” said Hansen.
“You don’t have to look at the standings very long to see we need to win a lot of games here to make the playoffs, and it’s obviously a very strong opponent today, a playoff team. These are the teams you have to beat. We can’t just beat the teams below us.”
Vancouver was blanked on four power plays while St. Louis failed to score on three.
Lack drew the start after backstopping the Canucks to a pair of wins over St. Louis earlier this season. Three of his nine wins have come against the Blues, and he has allowed only three goals to them.
The Canucks came out with the added aggression that coach John Tortorella has been seeking as they outshot the Blues 14-6 in the first period. But for most of the night, the hosts could not beat a steady Halak, who felt fresh after playing just two games for Slovakia in the Olympics and getting plenty of rest after arriving back in St. Louis last Thursday.
“It was a pretty good pace for 60 minutes,” said Halak. “It was just that we came up short. We couldn’t score.
“I tried to do my best. I tried to give the guys a chance to win. I’d like to get (Hansen’s goal) back.”
St. Louis had nine players in Sochi and the Canucks had seven. But Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who served as an assistant with Canada’s gold-medal-winning team, did not think post-Olympic fatigue was a factor.
“It was a hard fought, well played game for the most part,” said Hitchcock. “I didn’t think we had the energy in the third period than we did in the end of the first and the second. We had a great second period. But we’ve had trouble beating (Lack.) We haven’t scored on him, and he’s made some big saves and he’s won a lot of the scrambles. We had all the penetration in the second period for all the scoring chances.”
Hitchcock lamented his team’s inability to score on odd-man rushes in two losses in Vancouver this season.
“When you get two-on-ones and three-on-ones on the road, you’ve got to capitalize,” he said. “I think that was the difference in the hockey game.”
Lack’s best moments came late in the second period as he denied Blues captain David Backes on a one-timer during a delayed penalty and Alex Steen on a deflection, and got his pad on a T.J. Oshie shot before defenceman Alex Edler blocked the puck as he attempted to put in the rebound.
After the save, fans chanted “Eddie! Eddie!”
But Oshie, who played for the U.S. in the Olympics, was not willing to give Lack too much credit.
“He made some good saves, but I don’t think we really tested him like we could have,” said Oshie. “We let him see a lot of pucks.”
There was no denying Vancouver’s desperation though.
“They’re a desperate team right now,” said Halak. “For them, every game is a playoff game. They need to get every point that they can.”
Notes: Olympians from both teams were honoured in a pre-game ceremony. Blues defencemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo drew loud cheers from the crowd when they were saluted, along with Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis and goaltender Roberto Luongo, for helping Canada win the 2014 Olympic gold medal.…Tortorella worked his first home game since receiving a six-game suspension for storming the Calgary Flames dressing room area Jan. 18.…Canucks captain Henrik Sedin returned to action after suffering an undisclosed injury before the Olympics. He missed the past two practices while tending to a personal matter in Sweden, but returned Wednesday in time for the game. Defenceman Kevin Bieksa returned after missing five games before the Olympic break with a foot injury.…Vancouver centre Ryan Kesler sat out with a hand injury suffered while playing for the U.S. in the Olympics. Canucks defencemen Chris Tanev (thumb) and Andrew Alberts (concussion) remained out.…Blues defenceman Jordan Leopold missed the game due to an ankle injury. He was replaced by Carlo Colaiacovo.