DENVER – Kevin Bieksa played impromptu goalie and goal scorer in the final seconds to save the Vancouver Canucks.
Shortly after altering a shot with the net empty, the defenceman flew back down the ice to knock in the tying goal with 34.1 seconds remaining in regulation.
From there, Mason Raymond and Roberto Luongo took over. Raymond scored the lone goal in the shootout and Luongo stopped all three shots as the Canucks rallied for a 3-2 win over the struggling Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.
“Plays like (Bieksa) made enable you to get points,” Raymond said. “We’ll take it.”
Trailing 2-1 with 1:33 remaining, the Canucks pulled Luongo for an extra skater. Soon after, T.J. Galiardi had a chance to cement the win for the Avalanche, but missed the empty net.
Hardly by accident. Bieksa positioned himself in such a way that caused Galiardi to sail his shot wide.
Then, Bieksa made it a costly misfire as he blasted a shot past Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Not bad for a new stick.
Just before scoring his tying goal, Bieksa sat on the bench, studying his stable of sticks. He wanted one that would be more grippy given the deteriorating ice conditions.
He selected wisely.
“I like to go to a freshly taped stick, in case the puck bounces,” Bieksa explained. “If I feel like it’s a little whippy or the tape’s messed up, you switch to a new one.”
After a scoreless overtime, the game came down to a shootout.
Usually, that’s advantage Avalanche.
They had won seven straight this year and 10 in a row dating to last season, which was one shy of tying the NHL record set by the Dallas Stars during the 2005-06 season.
But Raymond put an end to that streak by sending a shot through the pads of Giguere. On a sneaky move, too, as Raymond drifted out wide and then worked his way back into the centre.
“I just wanted to be patient and he just sneaked a shot in there,” said Giguere, whose team has dropped five straight games. “They’re a good team. They know how to win. They found a way at the end.”
Thanks, in big part, to Luongo, who stopped a season-high 44 shots in regulation and overtime.
He was just warming up.
In the shootout, Luongo stuffed Milan Hejduk, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O’Reilly. Luongo pumped his fist after stopping O’Reilly’s attempt.
“Those guys have some pretty good shooters. They have a pretty good shootout record,” Luongo said. “I was able to get a couple of breaks there.”
Jay McClement and David Jones had goals for the Avalanche as the team finally halted a long scoring drought against the Canucks. The last time Colorado put a puck in the net against Vancouver was last March, ending a dry spell that spanned nearly 178 minutes.
McClement’s goal in the second period was his first in 19 games. He took a feed from Daniel Winnik and blasted it by Luongo.
The Avalanche could’ve been up by more if not for the sprawling saves turned in time and again by Luongo. His biggest save may have been stonewalling Winnik on a breakaway with just over five minutes remaining.
And while Bieksa doesn’t get credit for a stop, his was pretty important, too.
“Just wanted to put my body in front of it,” Bieksa nonchalantly said.
Ryan Kesler got the Canucks on the board first when he sent a shot past Giguere early in the opening period. The goal came soon after defenceman Kyle Quincey lost his stick and was unable to effectively cover anyone. It was Kesler’s 16th goal this season.
Colorado answered right back as Jones knocked in a shot from the left side of Luongo after receiving Paul Stastny’s pinpoint pass. That broke the hex Vancouver had on Colorado’s goal scorers.
In two games this season, Luongo and Cory Schneider have each posted a shutout by bottling up the Avalanche.
For Jones, this was a step in the right direction to escape coach Joe Sacco’s doghouse. Jones was benched last game for his recent struggles on the ice.
“It’s tough to watch your teammates out there and not be able to do something to help them,” Jones said. “So, it’s nice to get back out there for sure.”
The most entertaining moment of the first period—maybe even the game, judging by the fans’ raucous reaction—was a brawl between Cody McLeod and Byron Bitz that left McLeod’s face dripping blood. It was McLeod’s club-leading 11th fighting major this season.
Bitz was just called up from Chicago of the AHL on Friday and played in his first NHL contest in nearly two years.
NOTES: Avs F Peter Mueller was a scratch just before the game because of the flu. He missed 40 games earlier this season with concussion symptoms. … Landeskog had nine shots on goal, setting a new franchise mark for a rookie. … Kesler has scored goals in four of the last five games.