VANCOUVER, B.C. – It took 12 seasons, but Brad Lukowich is finally living his NHL dream.
Called up from the minors two weeks ago, Lukowich, who dreamed of playing for the Vancouver Canucks as a kid, scored the winning goal Monday in a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
“It’s a dream come true,” Lukowich, a 12-year veteran who played junior in Kamloops, B.C., said after scoring his first goal in 111 NHL games.
“I’ve been a Canuck fan since I was three or four years old. I’ve still got my sweaters. They’ve been handed down to my nephews now. For me to be playing in my home town, it’s pretty amazing.”
The goal snapped a 2-2 tie early in the third period and the Canucks nursed the lead for 15 minutes to extend their winning streak to a season-long five games.
Lukowich jumped into the play as twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin broke down the left wing, then he took Daniel’s between-the-legs back pass and snapped a quick shot past goalie Ryan Miller.
“I kind of saw him when I faked the shot,” Daniel Sedin said. “It was an easy pass to make and a nice shot.”
Miller said his club gave the Sedins and linemate Alex Burrows, who extended his points streak to 12 games with an assist, too much room to operate.
“What we needed was a lot more support and tightening up, and we ended up playing too cautious against them,” Miller said.
“That’s what they want. They want to slow it down, and we let them do it.”
The Cranbrook, B.C.-born Lukowich, whose father Bernie and cousin Morris also played in the NHL, said he’s still learning from the Sedins and their hard-to-defend passing.
“Keep your stick on the ice and expect the unexpected,” said Lukowich who hadn’t scored since Nov. 5, 2007 when he counted against Florida while playing for Tampa Bay.
“You’ve got to let those guys do their thing,” coach Alain Vigneault said of the Sedins.
“I mean, Lukowich going up in the play there? As long as it works. As long as it works. It was an unbelievable play. We’re all going, ‘Whoa!”‘
Lukowich was playing for the AHL Austin-based Texas Stars, when injuries hit Kevin Bieksa (lacerated ankle tendons), Sami Salo (groin) and Willie Mitchell (concussion).
He has two points in eight games and is plus-six while averaging 14 minutes of ice time.
“I couldn’t be happier for him,” said fellow rearguard Shane O’Brien. “He’s worked his way back and he’s been good for us since he’s been here.”
Vancouver improved to 32-18-2 and tied the Colorado Avalanche for first in the Northwest Division and third in the Western Conference.
The Sabres, who lead Ottawa by seven points atop the Northeast Division, lost their fourth straight and fifth in six games to slip to 30-14-7.
Buffalo has lost six straight at GM Place with their last victory coming in February 1999.
Henrik Sedin scored on a second-period break-in to give Vancouver a 2-1 lead.
He also drew an assist on Lukowich’s winner to expand his league-leading points total to 76, six more than Alex Ovechkin of Washington.
Mikael Samuelsson tied the game 1-1 with his eighth goal in 13 games for the Canucks after Adam Mair, with his first goal in 45 games, tipped a puck behind netminder Roberto Luongo.
Thomas Vanek, with a shot off the post and Luongo’s back, also scored for Buffalo which lost a one-goal decision for only the third time this season.
The Sabres appeared to score late in the second period when Craig Rivet banked a puck in off Canuck defenceman Christian Ehrhoff but it was disallowed because of Sabre Paul Gaustad’s cross-checking penalty.
“I understand it, I don’t like it,” said Sabre coach Lindy Ruff. “I don’t like the call.”
“I just felt it was more incidental contact. If you’re going to call that you better call about 75 cross-checks in the game around the front of the net.”
Vigneault said the referees were aware of Sabres going hard to the net.
“But they stopped and they stayed in the blue (crease), and they were pushing guys,” Vigneault said. “We were telling (the referees), they were telling us that they were seeing it, they saw it, and they called it.”
NOTES: Lukowich was obtained as blue-line insurance in the off-season deal that brought Ehrhoff here from the San Jose Sharks … Sabre Tim Connolly drew an assist to extend his points streak to 16 games … The contest concluded an 11,656-kilometre, two-week, seven-game road trip for Buffalo … It was the first meeting between the clubs since Oct. 17, 2008 when the Sabres won 5-2 at home … Buffalo last played here four years ago … Miller is likely to be the No. 1 goalie for the U.S. Olympic team while Luongo is seeking to start ahead of Martin Brodeur for Canada.