VANCOUVER, B.C. – Not even Roberto Luongo’s highly anticipated return could save the Vancouver Canucks against the suddenly playoff-calibre Phoenix Coyotes.
Joakim Lindstrom scored twice as the surging Coyotes improved their NHL post-season chances Thursday night as they beat the slumping Vancouver Canucks 4-1, spoiling star goaltender Luongo’s return after a two-month absence.
Luongo got off to a shaky start after missing 24 games with a groin injury as Lindstrom scored on Phoenix’s first shot of the game.
“For myself it was a rough start,” said Luongo. “These next couple days are going to be really important for me in practice to sharpen up as much as I can”.
Phoenix moved into a tie for fifth place with Vancouver in the Western Conference standings while handing the Canucks a franchise record-tying sixth straight home loss.
Shane Doan, the lone Coyote still around since Phoenix last qualified for the Stanley Cup tournament in 2002, didn’t want to look two far ahead, but he couldn’t quite resist.
“I don’t think you really allow yourself to think too much about (a playoff spot), but it’s fun,” said Doan.
Lindstrom led the Coyotes with the first two-goal night of his tenuous four-year career NHL career.
Keith Yandle and Peter Mueller also scored for Phoenix (22-18-5) before a sellout crowd of 18,630 at General Motors Place, who found more reasons to jeer than cheer. Doan had two assists.
Daniel Sedin scored for the Canucks (22-19-5), who last suffered six consecutive losses way back in their first NHL season, between Dec. 18, 1970 and Feb. 6, 1971.
“I understand the frustration of the fans,” said Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault. “They believe we have a good team. We believe we have a good team. We need to show it and obviously right now we’re not showing it.”
The Canucks actually outshot the Coyotes 32-31, but the figures were misleading because Vancouver had few legitimate scoring chances. Phoenix’s 29th-ranked power play went two-for-four while Vancouver was blanked on two man-advantage opportunities.
Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was rarely tested and only lost his shutout bid because of an unlucky bounce off Phoenix defenceman Zbynek Michalek’s shin pad.
Lindstrom gave the Coyotes a 2-0 advantage during a power play at 13:16 of the first period. He scored after Yandle’s shot him and the puck came dropped onto his stick while Luongo had gone down to save the point shot.
“He’s one of the best goalies in the world, if not the best, but if you’re gone for that amount of time, it’s always hard to come back,” said Lindstrom,. “So our game plan was to put pucks on the net and go to the net, and I thought we did a pretty good job of it.”
It was the Coyotes’ third win in the past four games but their first in three road outings. After ranking among the NHL’s top road clubs last season, they have posted just seven victories away from their Glendale, Ariz., home so far.
“It was really important for us,” said Doan. “We had a great record last year on the road. We were fourth in the whole league on the road. We know that we’re capable of doing it. We put a lot of emphasis on home and we’ve tried to get our home record up, and it’s been better this year, but our road record has slipped and we’ve gotta find a way to be better.”
The Canucks, on the other hand, must find a solution to their home woes.
Notes: To make room for Luongo on the roster, the Canucks assigned goaltender Curtis Sanford to Manitoba of the AHL . . . Vancouver centre Kyle Wellwood, tied for first in the NHL in shooting percentage (27.5) before Thursday, was a healthy scratch. He has not scored in his last four games, or since former Toronto linemate Mats Sundin started playing for the Canucks . . . Rookie winger Jannik Hansen drew back into the Vancouver lineup after being scratched for Tuesday’s loss to New Jersey . . . Phoenix evened its season series with Vancouver at 1-1 . . . Coyotes rookie centre Kyle Turris, a native of the Vancouver suburb of New Westminster, B.C., recorded an assist in his first NHL game at GM Place. He was scratched from the Coyotes’ previous visit to Vancouver in November.