VANCOUVER – Kevin Bieksa made the most of his limited offence Sunday night.
Bieksa’s goal with 24 seconds left to play gave the Vancouver Canucks a 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night.
Alex Burrows sent a long pass from behind the net to the point where Bieksa fired it past screened Edmonton goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
“I got a shot through and there was a lot of traffic in front and it squeaked in,” said Bieksa, who netted his third goal of the season.
The Canucks (21-8-5) posted their eleventh win in 14 games. They have not lost in regulation time since Dec. 5 against St. Louis. The Oilers (12-16-6) suffered their third straight loss–all on the road.
Vancouver has won all three meetings with Edmonton this season and seven in their past eight games.
Bieksa has been the subject of trade speculation the past two seasons because of inconsistent play. This season, following the departure of free agent Willie Mitchell to Los Angeles, Bieksa and the Vancouver coaches decided that the 29-year-old Grimsby, Ont., native would play more of a shut-down role.
Once one of the Canucks’ most offensive defenceman, Bieksa has focused more on defence.
“He’s been one of our most consistent players all for quite some time, where at the beginning of the year it was one very good game, one good game, etc.,” said Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault. “All his games now, he’s been very dependable at both ends of the rink. That’s the Kevin we know and that’s the Kevin we expect.”
Bieksa’s goal capped Vancouver’s comeback from a 2-0 second-period deficit. Jeff Tambellini and Mikael Samuelsson also scored for the Canucks.
“(Bieksa), he’s one of the most under-rated guys,” said Tambellini. “I don’t think people really appreciate his game. Not only just with the puck, he is a hard person to play against every night. He’s always in the trade rumours every day, but he is a huge part of our locker-room.”
Tambellini was relieved the Canucks pulled out the late win after he had a goal disallowed with 3:40 left in the third period. Following a video review, the official ruled that Tambellini deflected in Ryan Kesler’s shot with a high stick.
“It was nice to come back like that,” said Tambellini. “We didn’t have the start we wanted off the hop. But we’re a pretty resilient group in here.”
Tambellini, who is the son of Edmonton general manager Steve Tambellini, extended his point streak to five games.
“There are some pretty talented guys in here, so I’m just trying to fit in as best as I can,” said Tambellini. “But I’m more happy with the winning streak than I am with anything else.”
Ryan O’Marra, with his first NHL goal, and Ryan Whitney replied for the Oilers, who are winless in three meetings with Vancouver this season.
“We played really well,” said Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert, who suffered a thigh injury in the second period and was limited to five shifts in the third before sitting out the rest of the game. “Obviously, with 24 seconds left, it’s a tough loss.”
“We had the opportunity to clear it a couple of times and the glass is a great teammate sometimes,” said Edmonton coach Tom Renney. “We needed to use that and we weren’t able to do that and good keep by Bieksa up top. It was a good shot and a bit of a seeing eye shot and that’s the luck of the draw and you learn from it.”
Cory Schneider, who started his second straight game, finished with 19 saves. He chalked up his fifth victory of the season and remains unbeaten in regulation time.
Canucks starter Roberto Luongo arrived in Vancouver early Sunday after spending the Christmas break in Florida with his pregnant wife Gina, who is due to deliver the couple’s second child. It marked the first time Luongo has sat out two straight games as a Canuck while healthy.
Helped by two early power plays, the Oilers had several dangerous scoring chances in the first period, but could not beat Schneider.
In the second period it was Khabibulin’s turn to shine as the Canucks dominated. Vancouver outshot Edmonton 8-2 through the first half of the second before Renney called a timeout.
The unusual move worked as the Oilers got goals from O’Marra and Whitney about five minutes apart. But Tambellini countered for the Canucks with 45.4 seconds left in the middle frame.
Then Samuelsson created a 2-2 tie at 2:30 of the third period as he put in a cross-ice pass from former Oiler Raffi Torres, setting the stage for Bieksa’s winner.
Bieksa said his club was able to stay calm after Tambellini’s disallowed marker.
“I felt like we had momentum at that time on our side, so we just kept her going,” said Bieksa.
NOTES: The Canucks improved to 16-1-3 in games that Tambellini plays…Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome was a healthy scratch and remained two games shy of 100 for his career as Vancouver went with the same lineup that won Thursday in Columbus.…Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky (groin), Shawn Horcoff (knee) and Jim Vandermeer (ankle) remained out with injuries while Gilbert Brule was sidelined with the flu.…Vancouver winger Mason Raymond is close to returning from a broken thumb that has kept him out eight games.…Vancouver saluted retired winger Darcy Rota during the game as part of the franchise’s 40th anniversary celebration.…Canucks defenceman Sami Salo continues to skate on his own while recovering from off-season surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon suffered while playing a form of floor hockey in his native Finland. The club is expected to bring him back slowly in order to avoid exceeding the salary cap.