VANCOUVER – Chris Higgins, known for being a consummate team player, decided to get selfish Friday night.
But the out-of-character move paid off as he scored at 3:41 of overtime to give the Vancouver Canucks a 3-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes in NHL action Friday night.
“I’m not passing up that shot in overtime,” said Higgins.
The Smithtown, N.Y., native scored after he kicked the puck away from Phoenix centre Mike Ribeiro in the Vancouver zone and then raced down left wing and beat Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith with a quick shot to the far side.
The Canucks (16-10-5) posted their fourth win in five games while the Coyotes (16-8-5) suffered their third loss in four outings. The win moved the Canucks one point ahead of Phoenix in the Western Conference standings.
But Vancouver squeaked out the win after squandering a 2-0 lead in the final 10 minutes of regulation time.
“It’s lesson learned for sitting back in the third period,” said Higgins. “It came back to bite us. I don’t think we played in their end enough in the third, weren’t good on the forecheck all night, but we battled back.”
Higgins did not have much sympathy for reporters who were scrambling to re-write their stories as a result of the Phoenix comeback, with one suggesting the Canucks were “killing” them on deadline.
“We’re killing my grandma,” said Higgins. “She’s back in New York and she stays up for these games, so it’s almost one o’clock for her. And I feel bad for her.”
Jason Garrison and Henrik Sedin also scored for Vancouver.
Antoine Vermette and David Moss responded for the Coyotes with goals only two minutes and 21 seconds apart midway through the final period.
“We were focusing on getting pucks in in the third,” said Moss. “That should have been the way we were playing the whole game.”
Despite the win, Vancouver coach John Tortorella was not pleased, to say the least, about his club’s effort.
“I am happy we won, but I can’t stand the way we won,” said Tortorella.
The Canucks coach chastized his players for allowing the Coyotes to come back late in the game.
“I thought they played harder than us in the third period, and their sticks were better, and we have to get out of this situation of not finishing games—because we are going nowhere until we do,” said Tortorella.
He said his club squandered an extra point lead that it could have had on Phoenix if the Coyotes did not take the game to overtime to earn one. Tortorella, who has made much about getting to know Vancouver players, and how they play in his first season on the West Coast, was puzzled with how the Canucks could put together their string of success.
In his view, the Canucks, who played their first game at Rogers Arena following a four-game road trip, are not playing as well now as they were while struggling in their previous home stand.
“We have more to learn as a club as far as mindset and situational play,” he said. “I just don’t think we’re a good situational team right now, and that onus falls on me as a coach. I need to continue to teach that until it turns into an instinct for us.”
For much of the game, Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo’s play looked instinctive. He recorded 37 saves for the win as Smith stopped 29 shots in defeat.
Through most of the first 40 minutes, the crowd serenaded Luongo with “Loooo” almost every time he made a save. But the Coyotes never quit working and were finally rewarded for their efforts with a pair of quick goals.
Vermette pulled the Coyotes within a goal midway through the third period as he beat Luongo with a high slapshot from just inside the Vancouver blue-line after the Canucks got lackadaisical with the puck while trying to move it out of their zone.
The Phoenix goal came moments after Vancouver’s Jannik Hansen missed an open net at the other end of the ice.
Then Moss, standing on top of Luongo’s crease forged a 2-2 tie as he put in the rebound off Rob Klinkhammer’s shot from the side of net. The quick tallies negated Garrison’s power-play marker and Henrik Sedin’s one-timer off a pass from his twin brother Daniel in the second period following a scoreless first.
“t was deja vu all over again from the previous home stand,” said Luongo. “I got to try and make a save there. Even though it was a rebound, I got caught a little off balance and couldn’t recover on the second goal, but the boys responded.”
Now, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett is looking for a response from his club when it wraps up a four-game road swing in Colorado on Tuesday. He was happy that the Coyotes are defending better and giving fewer shots and scoring chances.
But he lamented his team’s struggles to gain ground in the tight Western Conference standings.
“We got three of (a possible) six (on the trip so far),” he said. And for where we are, we need to have a better percentage than that.”
Notes: After his miscue, Ribeiro declined a Coyotes media relations staffer’s request to speak to reporters.…Before the game, a moment of silence was held for late South African president Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95.…Coyotes captain Shane Doan sat out due to illness. Meanwhile, defenceman Derek Morris missed the game after leaving the club to attend to a family matter.…Andrew Alberts replaced defenceman Alex Edler in Vancouver’s lineup. Edler is sidelined indefinitely with a lower-body injury. … Vancouver’s much-maligned power play has now scored in seven consecutive games.