Ryan Kesler found his scoring touch, Roberto Luongo’s shutout bid wasn’t spoiled, and the Vancouver Canucks put a pair of losses to the lowly Edmonton Oilers firmly behind them.
Kesler scored three goals and Luongo stopped 29 shots as the Canucks got back on the rails by pounding the Minnesota Wild 5-0 in their final home game of the regular season.
“It was good to get the win tonight and get back on track,” said Kesler, who has a career-high 40 goals this season. “We didn’t play the best hockey the last couple of games and it was good to play a full 60 (minutes) like that.”
The league-leading Canucks had lost back-to-back games against the cellar-dwelling Oilers, being outscored 6-1. No one in the Vancouver dressing room was pushing the panic button, but the Canucks didn’t want an end-of-season stumble to turn into a playoff pratfall.
“The last two games weren’t a great effort for us,” said defenceman Kevin Bieksa. “We lacked the motivation and the intensity.
“I thought we came out from the beginning and looked like the hungry team out there.”
Kesler came into the game with just one goal in his last nine matches, and that came on a five-on-three power play. Earlier this year he went 11 games without a goal.
“It’s a funny game that way,” said Kesler. “You are going to get lucky sometimes.
“It’s been a couple of games now where my shot hasn’t been on. More than a couple. It’s good to get it back.”
Elsewhere in the NHL it was: Ottawa 3 Montreal 2 (OT); Atlanta 3 New York 0; and Dallas 4 Colorado 2.
At Vancouver, Kesler used muscle and speed to score.
During a first-period power play the hard-nosed centre outmuscled defenceman Greg Zanon in front of the Wild net, then directed a Henrik Sedin pass into an open goal.
In the second period he turned a Minnesota defenceman inside out with a nifty move before blowing a shot past Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom. In the third period Kesler skated in from centre, then put a shot over the top of Backstrom’s glove
Mason Raymond scored the other two Vancouver goals.
Daniel Sedin, the NHL’s point leader, had two assists to give him 400 in his career. Sedin now has 41 goals and 61 assists for 102 points, five more than Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks.
The Canucks improved their league-leading record to 53-19-9 for 115 points. As the final seconds ticked off the clock the sellout crowd of 18,860 gave the team a standing ovation.
The shutout was the fourth of the season for Luongo and 55th of his career.
“I was looking for something to go in at the end,” joked Luongo, who has seen a couple shutouts spoiled late in games.
“I haven’t had many this year. It’s nice to get one.”
What Luongo liked even better was Vancouver’s collective effort.
“We wanted to make sure we came out and played our game,” he said. “I thought it was probably one of our best 60 minutes in a long time.”
Luongo and backup Cory Schneider have allowed 183 goals this season and lead the race for the Jennings Trophy, given to the goaltending team which allows the fewest goals in the regular season.
The Wild, who are out of the playoff picture, dropped to 37-35-8. It was the third consecutive loss for the Wild, who have just two wins in their last 13 games.
Minnesota was without seven regulars due to injuries.
Coach Todd Richards said his team played well for most of the first period, only to be down 2-0.
“Now you are chasing and you are chasing a very good team,” said Richards.
“The chances we gave them in the first, a lot of time we had the puck on our stick with no pressure and we ended up turning it over. That feeds right into the strength of their team, the transition, turnover game.”
Luongo set the tone for the game with a couple of big saves. He calmly made back-to-back stops on Brent Burns and Colton Gillies early in the first period, bringing chants of “Luuu, Luuu” from the crowd.
In the second, Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu was alone in front of the net, but Luongo patiently held his ground and made a glove save.
The Canucks got an emotional boost when centre Manny Malhotra, who suffered a season-ending eye injury March 16, stepped on the ice prior to the game to accept the Presidents’ Trophy, given to the team with the best regular-season record.
Malhotra, wearing dark glasses, waved tothe cheering crowd and was given a hug by captain Henrik Sedin.
The Canucks learned earlier in the day that forward Raffi Torres had been given a four-game suspension for a hit to the head of Edmonton Oilers’ rookie Jordan Eberle. That means Torres misses the final two game of the regular season and the first two matches of the playoffs.
Canuck GM Mike Gillis was frustrated by the length of the suspension.
“We strongly disagree with it but we are going to move on here and get ready for the playoffs,” Gillis said.
Prior to the game the Canucks unveiled a bronze statue of former coach Roger Neilson, who guided the team during their run to the 1982 Stanley Cup final.
The statue, by local artist Norm Williams, shows Neilson raising a hockey stick with a towel hanging on the end, commemorating his show of disapproval for the officiating in a conference final playoff game against Chicago.
That began the tradition of Canuck fans waving towels at playoff games.
The Canucks end their regular season against the Flames in Calgary Saturday night.
Kesler said Vancouver has to take the same intensity into that game even though Calgary is out of the playoffs
“We need to continue moving forward,” he said. “We can’t take a step back on Saturday.
“We need to keep focusing on our habits and playing the right way.”
At Ottawa, Filip Kuba scored a rare goal 1:16 into overtime to left as the Senators beat Montreal in their last home game of the season.
At New York, Rob Schremp and Andrew Ladd scored 15 seconds apart in the second period, Ondrej Pavelec made 29 saves and Atlanta delivered a crushing blow to the Rangers’ playoff hopes.
At Dallas, Loui Eriksson and Brad Richards each had a goal and an assist, and Dallas remained in the playoff race with a victory over Colorado in the Stars’ home finale.