VANCOUVER – Bizarre, strange and sloppy were just some of the words used to describe the Vancouver Canucks’ wild victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday night.
Kevin Bieksa scored his second of the night at 2:15 of overtime as the Canucks fought back after blowing two separate two-goal leads to defeat the Coyotes 5-4.
The defenceman collected his own rebound and chipped his fourth of the season over Phoenix goalie Mike Smith while falling to the ice, capping a game where Coyotes forward Antoine Vermette was credited with a hat trick—even though he only shot one puck into Vancouver’s net himself.
“It was a strange game on both sides. It was bizarre,” said Canucks assistant coach Mike Sullivan. “I think there might have been one goal that was actually shot in the net. It seemed like everything was a deflection off a skate, off a stick, off something, so it was just one of those games for both sides.”
Chris Higgins had a goal and two assists for Vancouver (27-17-9), while Zac Dalpe added a goal and an assist. Jannik Hansen also scored for the Canucks, his first in 11 games.
Vancouver, which came in having scored just eight times in its last seven games, holds down the first wild card position in the Western Conference and is just a point back of the Los Angeles Kings for third place in the Pacific Division.
“It wasn’t your typical game. We’ve been struggling to score goals lately, so let’s take some positive out of it. We put five in, some guys got on the scoresheet and we found a way to win when it came down to it,” said Bieksa, who also had an assist.
“We needed the two points. We were up a couple goals a few times and they came back and we stayed resilient and found a way to win.”
Added Higgins: “Kind of a sloppy game and with the weird goals it was kind of a strange game. It’s nice to be on the winning side of those games and nice to score a bunch of goals—it’s been tough to come by recently.”
Roberto Luongo, who was shaky at times and even directed one of Vermette’s goals over the line himself, made 29 saves for the Canucks. On the whole, it was a night to forget for both Luongo and Smith as two of the three goalies heading to next month’s Winter Olympics for Canada fought the puck and looked lost in the crease at times.
“It was definitely a weird one,” said Luongo. “It was one of those games where it felt like the puck was bouncing in from everywhere. The good thing is we got the win.”
Shane Doan chipped in with a goal and an assist for Phoenix (24-18-10), which got 20 stops from Smith as the Coyotes picked up a point but still sit four back of the Minnesota Wild for eighth in the West and five back of Vancouver.
“We’re going to have to be better than we are right now,” said Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett. “We play stretches well but make critical errors at the wrong time and those have to be cleaned up if we are going to be a playoff team.”
After a wild finish to the second period, Doan tied the game 4-4 on a breakaway at 5:24 of the third. The Coyotes captain moved in on Luongo and lost control of his deke but still saw the puck squeak through the five-hole for his 15th of the season.
Vancouver was handed a power play right at the end of regulation, but the league’s 28th-ranked unit failed to convert in overtime before Bieksa won it.
The Canucks’ power play came into Sunday on a dreadful 2-for-30 run over the last eight games and rarely looked dangerous against the Coyotes in four failed attempts.
“When a power play struggles it can take on a life of its own,” said Sullivan, who is running the Canucks’ bench in place of the suspended John Tortorella. “Now not only are you trying to coach the Xs and Os of the strategy of the power play, but you are coaching the mindset and a fragile mindset.”
Down 2-1 in the second, the Coyotes tied it while shorthanded against that feeble power play. Canucks forward Ryan Kesler tried to slap the puck off Vermette’s stick in front of Luongo, only to see it carom into the Vancouver net to tie the score at 9:07. The goal was Vermette’s second of the night and 17th of the season.
The Canucks had just 10 shots in total when Higgins restored Vancouver’s lead at even strength by deflecting a shot from the point past Smith for his 14th of the season, and second in as many games, at 16:59. Dalpe then followed up his own rebound off the rush to score his third and stretch the Canucks’ lead to 4-2 just 42 seconds later.
That two-goal lead would be short-lived as Vermette completed his second hat trick of the season—and third of his career—with 54.5 seconds remaining in the period with a shot from in close as the Coyotes broke through against the Canucks’ stingy penalty kill, which came in ranked second overall. Vermette now has six goals in his last six games, and three short-handed goals in his last four.
“Free hat trick right there,” Luongo said with a laugh. “At least he buried the last one to make it at least somewhat justifiable. It was just one of those nights where it felt like the puck was finding ways in.”
Vermette was unapologetic when it came to his good fortune.
“You get good chances and the puck doesn’t go in for you,” he said. “I thought it was a good sign, we’ve been talking about those bounces lately. It’s a sign that things are going to turn around.”
The Canucks—who were still without injured forwards Henrik Sedin and Mike Santorelli because of upper-body injuries—beat Smith twice in a 44-second span midway through first period as both Bieksa and Hansen ended lengthy droughts.
Bieksa opened the scoring at 10:31 on a shot through traffic to pick up his first goal in nine games. The defenceman’s third of the season was also his first point in the last eight contests and came moments after a failed Vancouver power play.
Hansen then doubled the Canucks’ lead at 11:15, ripping a shot five-hole on a 3-on-2 rush for his ninth of the season and first point in nine games.
The fans at Rogers Arena were barely back in the seats when Phoenix cut the lead in half just 18 seconds later thanks to the gaffe by Luongo that inadvertently directed a loose puck off the stick of Vermette into his own net.
“There’s a lot of positives, and some negatives as well,” said Luongo. “They showed resilience when they went down two goals and we showed some as well when the game was tied both times we were able to get the next one.”
Notes: Henrik Sedin missed his third straight game, while Santorelli sat out his fourth in a row. … Sunday’s matchup was the fourth of five meetings between Phoenix and Vancouver this season. The Coyotes scored a 3-2 shootout victory on home ice in November, before the Canucks won 3-2 in overtime at Rogers Arena in December. Phoenix then beat Vancouver 1-0 in the desert on Jan. 16. The teams close out their season series on Mar. 4 in Glendale, Ariz. … The Canucks play the third game of their four-game homestand on Monday against the Edmonton Oilers. The Coyotes host the Kings on Tuesday in the opener of a five-game homestand.