VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks could not count on another low-scoring game Friday night to help them get out of their doldrums.
Justin Fontaine’s shootout goal gave the Minnesota Wild a 2-1 win over Vancouver in a game in which the Canucks had no shortage of chances.
But unlike in their 1-0 win over St. Louis two nights earlier, the Canucks could not rely on goaltending to help them eke out a win. Fontaine, Minnesota’s seventh shooter, went wide on Canucks goaltender Eddie Lack and slid the puck under him.
“I thought we played good enough to win,” said Lack, adding the Canucks had strong second and third periods.
The Wild (33-21-7) posted their fourth straight win, while the Canucks (28-24-10) suffered their eighth loss in the past nine games. With the point for the shootout loss, Vancouver still managed to move into a tie for eighth place in the Western Conference with Dallas. But the Canucks now trail the seventh-place Wild by seven points.
“We’ve just gotta squeeze out those 1-0 (and) 2-0 nights,” said Lack.
Wild rookie goaltender Darcy Kuemper preserved the win by denying Vancouver’s final shooter, David Booth, as he attempted a spin-o-rama shot. It was Wild’s second win in two nights following the NHL season’s Olympic hiatus for Kuemper, a 23-year-old Saskatoon native.
“Things were going really good before the break, so sometimes you want to keep going,” he said. “But all of a sudden, you have a three-week hiatus. But it was good to refresh mentally, and it looks like we are picking right up where we left off.”
Kuemper improved his record to 10-3-2. Both he and Lack entered the game after posting shutouts in the one before.
“Me personally, my confidence is high, and the team is playing great in front of me,” said Kuemper. “So that helps you feel good about yourself.”
The Canucks have only scored five goals in their past six games, but coach John Tortorella had no complaints after his team gained its third of four possible post-Olympic points heading into Sunday’s Heritage Classic against the Ottawa Senators at B.C. Place Stadium.
“I’m really excited about some of the structure that we have in our game,” said Tortorella, adding it must continue.
The Canucks controlled play in the second and third periods. The Wild’s second shot of the third period came with only 2:59 left.
“We had chances and we didn’t score and we didn’t get it done in the shootout, but we can’t be negative about it,” said Tortorella.
The Wild scored on one of three power plays while the Canucks were blanked on two, but tallied while shorthanded.
Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler and Minnesota’s Zach Parise exchanged first-period goals.
Kesler, who missed Thursday’s win over St. Louis with a hand injury and has been the subject of trade speculation, opened the scoring 5:19 into the game while the Canucks were shorthanded. After Chris Higgins forced a turnover just outside the Vancouver blue-line, Kesler raced down left wing and beat Kuemper with a high shot.
The goal came while Daniel Sedin was serving a hooking penalty.
Minnesota had a goal by former Canucks defenceman Keith Ballard disallowed as officials ruled Mikael Granlund interfered with Lack, but no penalty was necessary.
Parise evened the score just under nine minutes later as he beat a heavily screened Lack from the slot. The Wild sniper put the puck between Canuck defenceman Alex Edler and teammate Dany Heatley’s jerseys as they stood in front of the net.
The Canucks outshot the Wild 11-6 in the second period, but could not beat a steady Kuemper, who made his 14th consecutive start while filling in for regulars Niklas Backstrom, who dressed as the backup as he continued to recover from an abdominal injury, and Josh Harding (illness).
Early in the third period, in which the Canucks outshot the Wild 9-3, he robbed Kesler while sprawled on his belly. After Kesler picked up the puck, cut in front of the goalmouth and sent a backhand toward the net, Kuemper lifted his right leg and kicked the disk out.
The Canucks received a rare power play 1:27 into the extra session as Parise was penalized for boarding Chris Tanev.
In the shootout, Vancouver’s Chris Higgins had Kuemper down and out after a deke, but hit the post on his club’s final shot of the regulation portion.
“At the end of the day, we’ve gotta produce,” said Kesler, who failed to score on Vancouver’s sixth shootout attempt. “All those shootouts in practice aren’t working, I guess. We’ve gotta figure out something else.”
Notes: Vancouver defenceman Chris Tanev returned after missing seven games with a thumb injury.…Wild captain Mikko Koivu remained out with an ankle injury suffered Jan. 4, but took part in his club’s morning skate. He has missed 17 straight games.…Most of Vancouver’s injured players have returned. Only winger Mike Santorelli (shoulder, out for season) and defenceman Andrew Alberts (concussion) remain in sick bay.…Minnesota left winger Jason Zucker missed his second consecutive game with a lower-body injury while Marco Scandella sat out his third contest due to a sprained knee. Goaltender Harding, who is struggling to find the right medication program for his multiple sclerosis, has missed 19 games.