VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks made Roberto Luongo’s first start in eight games a memorable one Sunday night.
Luongo held the fort during a difficult first period en route and Chris Higgins and David Booth had a goal and two assists each as the Canucks beat the Calgary Flames 5-1.
“It was nice to get back in there with a win,” said Luongo, who finished with 21 saves. “That was the goal, and the boys did a great job tonight.”
Luongo allowed a weak goal that staked Calgary to a 1-0 lead, but he was solid the rest of the way in his first start since Nov. 13.
“I just felt good all night,” said Luongo. “I was seeing the puck well, and after the first I didn’t have much. The guys did a really good job of not creating turnovers and making sure that they didn’t have any odd-man rushes.”
Kevin Bieksa, Jannik Hansen and Daniel Sedin also scored for Vancouver (15-10-1), which posted its sixth win in seven games and continued its dominance over Calgary, having won 10 of its past 12 meetings.
Alex Tanguay scored for the Flames (11-13-2) who lost for only the second time in their past six games.
“It would be great if we could just wave the magic wand and fix it,” said Calgary defenceman Jay Bouwmeester about his club’s troubles with Vancouver. “But we have to try to get over that hump. We haven’t had a lot of success against them but we play them a lot, so if we can turn it around and get some of those points it can go a long way.”
The Flames outshot the Canucks 13-10 in the first period, but Luongo faced little action in the final two periods as Calgary managed only nine shots and was outshot 36-22 on the night.
Calgary led 1-0 after the first period, but the Canucks led 2-1 after the second before taking charge in the third.
“The first period was as good of a period as we’ve played all year,” said Flames coach Brent Sutter. “They got that first goal on us and we stopped moving our feet and stood around and allowed them to take it to us and started making mistakes.”
Vancouver converted two-of-six power plays while blanking the Flames on four man-advantage opportunities.
Luongo made his first start since suffering an undisclosed upper-body injury against the New York Islanders. Prior to a rare relief appearance Thursday, he had watched five straight games from the bench after missing two with his brief injury.
The stretch marked the first time in Luongo’s six-season tenure with the Canucks that he served as the backup during a prolonged span.
“They came out, I thought, real strong in that first period and he had to make four good saves, which I thought put him in the game,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “It was unfortunate, he got a little bit unlucky there on their only goal. But, other than that, he played the way we expect him to play.”
Calgary goaltenders Henrik Karlsson, who left in the third period with an apparent knee injury following a collision with teammate Tom Kostopoulos, and Miikka Kiprusoff, who was perfect on four shots, combined for 31 saves.
Luongo’s most notable first-period save came on Olli Jokinen’s breakaway. The goaltender used some prior knowledge to get the upper hand on his former Florida Panthers teammate.
“I know him pretty well,” said Luongo. “He’s got a couple moves and one of them is backhand, five-hole. So it’s good that I have that in the back of my mind, and once he went to the backhand, I just wanted to make sure my stick was there in case he went five-hole.”
Tanguay opened the scoring on a bad goal with 1:26 left in the first. Standing behind the net in the corner, he squeezed a shot through Luongo and the post, and the puck then caromed in off the goaltender’s skate, prompting a groan from the crowd.
Bieksa tied it on a power play 5:13 into the second period as his point shot deflected off Rene Bourque’s stick and clanked in off the post. The goal extended Bieksa’s point streak to five games.
The Canucks outshot the Flames 15-4 in the second period, but did not beat Karlsson again until the final minute when Higgins backhanded in Booth’s rebound to break the 1-1 tie.
Booth increased Vancouver’s lead to 3-1 just 40 seconds into the third period as he came around the Calgarynet. Higgins assisted on the goal, recording his 200th career point, but was not aware he had reached the milestone.
The winger was glad the Canucks were able to provide some goal support for Luongo after he kept them in the game in the first period.
“Bobby showed once again why he’s one of the top goalies in the league,” said Higgins. “I’m really happy I don’t have to shoot on him.”
Vigneault was extremely pleased with the trio of Booth, Higgins and Ryan Kesler, who combined for eight points. The coach said Booth has been a big reason for the line’s success after working hard to overcome struggles following an early-season trade from Florida.
“We’ve been playing better,” said Booth. “Those guys are so skilled so it’s been fun playing with them.”
Vigneault was also “extremely pleased” with Mason Raymond, who recorded an assist in his first game since he suffered fractured vertebrae in last spring’s Stanley Cup finals.
“It’s game one,” said Raymond. “The first one’s under the belt. Unfortunately, it does take a little bit of time to where you want to feel comfortable. But for the first game, I was quite pleased with how things went.”
Notes: Vancouver D Sami Salo returned to the lineup after missing one game with a groin injury. Salo’s return made Andrew Alberts a healthy scratch.…Vancouver D Dan Hamhuis recorded an assist and needs only one more point for 200 in his career.…Calgary was missing injured RW David Moss (foot), D Anton Babchuk (hand) and D Mark Giordano (hamstring).…Veteran Flames D Cory Sarich was a healthy scratch for the 10th time in the past 14 games, while ex-Canuck C Brendan Morrison, a former NHL ironman, sat out his fifth straight game.