VANCOUVER – Nicklas Jensen is likely not being sent back to the minors any time soon.
The Vancouver Canucks rookie helped keep his team’s flickering playoff hopes alive Wednesday night as he scored the only goal his team needed in a 2-0 victory over the Nashville Predators.
It was Jensen’s third goal in four games, and also just the third of his NHL career. The Danish rookie has only played seven games this season since being promoted from the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League because of injuries to forwards Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler.
“It’s huge,” said Jensen of his high-scoring ways. “It’s tough to know what to expect when you get up here. The way we’ve been playing, it’s been really well.
“So I’m happy with it. We just need to keep it going and play this way.”
Jensen and Alex Edler scored one minute 13 seconds apart in the third period to break open a scoreless affair.
The Canucks (32-30-10) posted their fourth win in seven games, but remained in 10th place while pulling within three points of eighth-place Phoenix. The win was timely because the Canucks remained a point up on the Winnipeg Jets, who beat Colorado earlier Wednesday night.
Nashville (29-31-10) is in 12th place, dropping five points behind the Jets.
Vancouver goaltender Eddie Lack made 30 saves for his fourth shutout of the season—tops among NHL rookies—as the Predators enjoyed a 30-22 edge in shots.
“I’m the first one to say I haven’t got to my best games so far and it feels good coming out with a shutout tonight for sure,” said Lack, who has inherited the No. 1 role following Roberto Luongo’s trade to Florida.
Jensen finally opened the scoring as he picked up a loose puck while Nashville defenceman Seth Jones was checking Henrik Sedin, and then roofed a shot over Nashville goaltender Carter Hutton’s outstretched glove.
“Henrik got the puck,” said Jensen. “It was kind of scrambling and bobbling on his stick and he somehow he found a way to slide it over to me, and I just tried to release it and put it on net.
“The guy (Henrik Sedin) can do a lot of things a lot of guys can’t do. That’s also why he’s so unique and one of the best players in the world.
“When I came up here and heard that I could play with him, I knew I was gonna be ready.”
The 21-year-old Jensen, Vancouver’s top draft choice in 2011 (29th overall), is proving himself at the NHL level in his first full season in North America. He was returned to the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals after he was drafted, and then split last season between a Swedish team and Vancouver’s former Chicago Wolves AHL affiliate. Along he way, he has battled injuries and inconsistency.
But he is proving himself to be a quick offensive study, with only nine NHL career games under his skates, after dressing for two last season.
He is also impressing Canucks coach John Tortorella with his two-way play.
“For a young guy, his positioning with the puck and without the puck, it’s really good,” said Tortorella.
The demanding Canucks coach said Jensen has thrived after starting slowly after his promotion.
“I heard him say something where he really struggled early on, which he did, and then he just started getting some puck luck after that, and it just relaxed him,” said Tortorella. “He doesn’t think about it. He just plays.”
Edler gave the Canucks a 2-0 lead on a power play as he slid a slapshot between Hutton’s outstretched leg and the right post. The goal came only five seconds after Nashville defenceman Victor Bartley was penalized for interference. The puck went in while the infraction was being announced over the public address system.
The Canucks were playing their first game back home after a four-game road trip. The Predators completed their third straight series of back-to-back games within nine days.
Accordingly, neither team could muster a goal in the first two periods. Tortorella said fatigue took a toll on his club.
“I don’t think we played that well in the first period. I don’t think we won many battles. I thought, in the second period, we started winning some battles.…Going into the third period (it was) next goal wins.”
The Canucks did not get a shot on goal until 9:27 of the first period. Vancouver then enjoyed a spurt of offence, dominating with teams at full strength, but could not be Hutton.
The Preds controlled play for the rest of the period, but could not beat Lack. The Canucks goaltender denied Gabriel Bourque from close range following an odd-man rush. Near the end of the period, Lack stopped Patric Hornqvist twice on one-timers that occurred within a few seconds of each other.
In the second period, Hutton stopped Edler as he came out of the penalty box, took a pass and rushed down the right wing. Moments later, Hutton foiled Dan Hamhuis on a wraparound and Alex Burrows on the ensuing rebound.
“I thought it was a pretty even game,” said Nashville coach Barry Trotz. “Both teams had some looks and we’re just not scoring easy right now.
The Preds were shut out for the ninth time this season as their playoff hopes grew slimmer.
“We’ve got to get some goals for our goaltender,” said Trotz.
Notes: The Canucks lost Burrows for a while after Jensen’s goal as he appeared to be slashed on the left hand by Preds captain Shea Weber as the puck went in. Burrows’s glove came off on the play, but he was able to come back. Tortorella said Burrows will be evaluated Thursday.…Nashville centre Paul Gaustad was injured when Canucks defenceman Edler checked on a breakaway and proceeded to fall on him in the first period. Gaustad went to the dressing room and did not return.…Tortorella said defenceman Chris Tanev will be out three to four weeks with a broken finger suffered while blocking a shot Monday in Tampa Bay. If the Canucks miss the playoffs, he could be done for the season. No updates were given on injured centre Ryan Kesler and winger Daniel Sedin, who remain out indefinitely with undisclosed ailments.…Canucks centre Brad Richardson returned after missing seven games with an undisclosed upper-body injury.…Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis and his family donated $55,000 in conjunction with a local radio station to the team’s charitable children’s foundation.