The Vancouver captain scored at 18:03 of the third period, a goal that proved to be the winner in the Canucks’ 5-3 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night. The unassisted goal was Naslund’s 16th of the season and fourth in nine games after he ended a 16-game goal-scoring drought. Naslund provided the Canucks with their fourth two-goal lead when he stole the puck, side-stepped defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron and beat Dwayne Roloson with a backhand between the legs of the Edmonton goalie.
“It was four-on-four and I saw (Raffi) Torres trying to keep the puck in and I tried to block and I got it on a one-on-one situation,” Naslund said. “I just read what (Roloson) gave me and fortunately it went in five-hole.”
Naslund didn’t realize at the time how important the goal would be.
“It put them back two goals but then they scored again so it ended up being the game winner,” he said. “You never know when they pull the goalie and they might get a bounce here and there.”
The Canucks won in regulation after losing three of four games with two losses coming in shootouts and the other in overtime.
But it wasn’t easy as the Oilers closed to within a goal three times until Jan Bulis ended the suspense with an empty-net goal with 18 seconds remaining.
The clubs scored two goals apiece in the final two minutes 44 seconds to produce a wild finish as Vancouver gained sole possession of top spot in the Northwest Division, two points ahead of the Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild.
Marc Chouinard also took advantage of an Edmonton turnover to give the Canucks a 3-1 edge in the third.
He recovered the puck at the Vancouver blue-line after the Edmonton defenceman vacated the point on a botched line change. Chouinard led a two-man break in on Roloson and beat the Oiler goalie with a backhand shot.
“It was a fortunate goal at an opportune time and I’ll take it,” said the fourth-line centre, who ended a 17-game goal-scoring drought with his second of the season. “We made it interesting for the fans.”
But not for Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish.
“You start feeling good about your team and then you get the flagrant error,” MacTavish said of Chouinard’s goal. “We couldn’t get the save when we needed one.
“Not that Rollie was bad, but we needed him to make the save on Chouinard and to make the save on Naslund. You can’t fault the goalie, but you need a save in those situations when we were giving up those opportunities.”
Mattias Ohlund, with a shot that deflected in off a defenceman, and Henrik Sedin, with his first goal in 14 games, also scored for the Canucks, who evened their division record at 10-10-1.
Marty Reasoner hit a post, then scored unassisted for the Oilers when Vancouver defenceman Sami Salo tried to chip the puck out of the crease but put it over goalie Roberto Luongo.
Toby Petersen and Joffrey Lupul got the late Edmonton goals.
The game took on a playoff atmosphere and Oiler centre Jarret Stoll left after nine shifts when his recently fractured nose came into contact with Kevin Bieksa’s elbow.
MacTavish said Stoll would return to Edmonton rather than travel with the club to Colorado.
“They are chasing us and were pumped up to get the win here,” said Luongo. “After every whistle there was a scrum so there was a lot of intensity in the air.”
Shawn Horcoff said the Oilers made critical mistakes in a big divisional game.
“We’ve got to find ways to win those games if were going to be a playoff team,” Horcoff said. “Divisional games are huge and as the games tick away here and we get closer to April they become bigger and bigger.”
NOTES: The NHL’s best penalty kill on the road (Edmonton) met the best penalty kill at home (Vancouver). The end result was no power-play goals . . . Defenceman Willie Mitchell returned to Vancouver’s lineup after missing six games with a groin injury. As a result, the Canucks sent Yannick Tremblay back to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, along with centre Tommi Santala who is coming off a knee injury . . . This marked the first of three games against Alberta teams for Vancouver. The Canucks are in Calgary on Saturday before heading to Edmonton for a rematch with the Oilers on Tuesday.