VANCOUVER – Cory Schneider did not let a sub-par effort get him down for long.
Schneider made 33 saves and three more unofficial ones in the shootout as the Vancouver Canucks clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs with a 2-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.
“It’s nice to finally get that check mark,” said Schneider. “You’re never in until you’re in. This Western Conference is so competitive, and it seems like everyone wants to win it and everyone goes on a run at some point.
“So to get into the playoffs is our first goal and, hopefully, we can go a step further now and clinch our division. So we’re just going to try to put our heads down and keep going.”
Schneider was happy to rebound from a poor showing in a 5-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, in which he allowed four third-period goals. He revived his game in a big way, blanking the Wings while they outshot the Canucks 17-2 in the third period and 4-1 in the shootout.
“He was real good,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “He made some great saves against some great players. He gave us a chance to win it in the shootout and, obviously, he was our best player tonight.”
The coach also praised his club for getting into the playoffs with three games remaining in the regular season after battling numerous injuries, notably to centre Ryan Kesler, who was sidelined for extended periods with wrist and shoulder problems stemming from last season and a broken foot this season. Vancouver is currently dealing with health woes to defencemen.
“It’s not easy to get into the playoffs, to have the opportunity to challenge for the Cup,” said Vigneault. “It’s the first step, and this group, I believe, deserves a lot of credit for getting in. It’s tough to get in, and we did it under some very tough circumstances.”
Maxim Lapierre scored in the shootout as the Canucks (25-13-7) posted their seventh consecutive victory at home. The Red Wings (20-16-8) missed out on a chance to jump over the playoff bar.
Lapierre, Vancouver’s last shooter in the shootout, beat Jimmy Howard with a forehand-to-backhand deke, roofing the puck into the net.
“I wanted to be patient,” said Lapierre, who skated towards the net slowly. “There’s not many holes there. He’s pretty big in net.”
Alex Edler scored for Vancouver and Damien Brunner had one for Detroit in the first period, but neither team could score again until the shootout as Howard and Schneider sparkled at different times.
Schneider was by far the busier of the two goaltenders as the Red Wings outshot the Canucks 34-14. The performance was an important one heading into the playoffs, because Schneider will be the go-to-guy in goal again in the post-season after displacing Roberto Luongo as No. 1 in net in last spring’s playoffs.
“(Schneider) was great again,” said Vancouver winger Alex Burrows, who was thwarted on a first-period short-handed breakaway and a partial breakaway in the second.
“He has been playing great for us for a long time now, and that’s what we come to expect from him. That’s the play he is able to bring every night and we’ll need that down the stretch.”
The Canucks scored on one of four power-play chances, while the Wings were blanked on three. Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg, who was among the Red Wing trio denied in showdown session, said his struggling team, which has won just once in the last six games, played better than it did in a loss to Calgary on Wednesday, but again failed to execute on its chances.
“Both teams played really good defence,” said Zetterberg.
“The goalies played well. I wasn’t really surprised it went to a shootout.”
In addition to Zetterberg, Schneider stopped snipers Pavel Datsyuk, who flubbed a flip shot intended for the top of the net, and Damien Brunner.
Edler capitalized just past the game’s 12-minute mark after Vancouver received a two-man advantage for two minutes 47 seconds as Niklas Kronwall and Brendan Smith took tripping and high-sticking penalties, respectively. The Canucks could not score during the five-on-three situation, but Edler scored on a slapshot from the point with Alex Burrows providing a screen.
Emmerton created the deadlock in the final minute of the first period as he deflected in Brunner’s shot from the side boards.
The loss left Detroit, a perennial powerhouse that has qualified for the playoffs for 21 straight seasons, in ninth place with four games remaining in the regular season.
“We have to find a way to score more goals,” said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. “We will just continue to work hard.”
Notes: Detroit lost winger Drew Miller to an upper-body injury in the first period. … Vancouver defenceman Keith Ballard left the game in the third period and did not return. Vigneault said he “tweaked his back” in a second-period fight with Justin Abdelkader. … A moment of silence was held before the game for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. … Vancouver defencemen Kevin Bieksa (lower body) and Chris Tanev (ankle) remained out with injuries. Winger Chris Higgins (knee) also remained out. Higgins took part in the morning skate and said he was “close” to returning, but coach Alain Vigneault indicated he had a setback and was not yet ready. … Detroit winger Todd Bertuzzi (back) missed a chance to play against his former Vancouver squad as he sat out his 34th consecutive contest, although he is skating with the team. … Detroit winger Jordin Tootoo drew back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch Wednesday in Calgary.