VANCOUVER, B.C. – Ryan Kesler admits his game-tying goal wasn’t pretty, but it was the result of the speed and toughness the Vancouver Canucks need to show if they want to put their disappointing start to the season behind them.
Vancouver’s second line of Kesler, Mason Raymond and rookie call-up Michael Grabner sparked the Canucks in a 2-1 victory over the struggling Minnesota Wild on Saturday.
The improved effort came after the Canucks were embarrassed by falling behind 5-0 in a 5-3 loss Friday to the Flames in Calgary.
“We need to have a game like this,” Kesler said
Kesler tied the score against Minnesota and Mikael Samuelsson converted Alex Burrows’ rebound in the third period to win it for Vancouver. Both counted their third goals in four games.
“It was a garbage goal,” Kesler said of his scoring effort after Mikko Koivu gave the Wild a 1-0 lead on a shot that deflected behind goalie Roberto Luongo off teammate Kyle Wellwood’s skate.
“That’s the type of game it was tonight. I got a lucky bounce … I don’t know if it went off our foot or their foot and then we get a rebound, back door, open net (on Samuelsson’s goal.)
“It was a grind-’em-out type of game.”
Kesler said his line’s speed and puck pursuit were keys as they fired 17 shots on busy goalie Niklas Backstrom who finished with 37 saves.
“When you generate shots in the offensive zone, we have the speed to get to those rebounds,” said Kesler who banked the puck in from the side of the net. “That was the game plan tonight and it worked.
Samuelsson, a free-agent signing in the off-season, had to be patient before scoring the deciding goal.
Backstrom was down and out of position and James Sheppard of the Wild was just stepping back on the ice after serving a roughing penalty early in the third period.
“The puck just came out on the other side and I got it on my backhand, put it over to the forehand and I tried to get it high,” Samuelsson said of his fourth goal of the season and first at even strength.
“I feel more comfortable each game I play (with new teammates). It takes some time. Even if I don’t score goals I try, like everybody else, to do good things out there.”
Several Canucks said it was their best effort of the season.
“I think by far this was our best game of the year,” said Luongo, who gave way to backup Andrew Raycroft on Friday after allowing five goals on 19 shots.
“We sustained it for 60 minutes. This is the type of game we need to be playing on a nightly basis.”
Burrows, who’s drive to the net eventually set up Samuelsson’s winner, said Kesler’s line set the tone.
“They were one of the fastest lines in the league tonight,” he said. “You want to use that speed moving the puck and playing with grit so it was fun to watch them play tonight and they led the way.”
The victory was Vancouver’s third in a row at GM Place as they improved to 3-4 and avoided falling into the Western Conference cellar. Minnesota dropped to 1-6 after losing all five games of their road trip.
Backstrom, who kept his club in the game with several clutch saves, said the Wild have to put the stretch behind them.
“We have to live with it and try to get better and I think everyone believes in here we are getting better every night,” Backstrom said.
“We don’t get the bounces. It seems a lot of things are going against us now but I think we are going to be a much better and stronger hockey team and I think that’s what everybody in this locker room believes.”
Owen Nolan said Backstrom deserved a better result after his effort.
“He’s out backbone,” Nolan said. “He plays great all the time, it’s unfortunate we’re kind of hanging him out to dry right now.”
Backstrom robbed Kesler from the slot and denied Grabner on the power play. Raymond was twice foiled – a pad save on one good chance and a glove save on the other.
Andrew Brunette almost tied the game with 3:45 remaining but his shot trickled wide of the post off Luongo.
He also squared up against Brent Burns and denied Antti Miettinen with his glove when the Canucks ran into penalty trouble in the third period.
“I felt just as good as last night,” Luongo said. “I’m just playing my game right now and not worrying about anything else but stopping the puck.”
NOTES: The Canucks were 5-0-1 against the Wild last season … Vancouver called up Alex Bolduc from the AHL Manitoba Moose who had 11 minutes 41 seconds of ice time … Tanner Glass was a healthy scratch for Vancouver … the Wild were outscored 18-9 in the previous four games of their road trip.