VANCOUVER – Roberto Luongo could laugh about it after the game, but the Canuck goalie faced what seemed like a season’s worth of breakaways and a shootout that went eight rounds in a tense 2-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I just love the shootout,” Luongo said Tuesday with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. “It’s so fun.”
He has struggled in the shootout with only three wins this season in eight attempts, but he stopped four Columbus breakaways in regulation time and finished with 30 saves.
“It’s all about confidence when you’re in a shootout,”he said.
“You don’t want to be thinking too much. Things haven’t gone too well for me in that department and you start thinking a little bit. After we tied it I just went out there and did what I had to do.”
Raffi Torres, who trained with Columbus goalie Steve Mason in the summer, finally ended the shootout with a shot over his former teammate’s blocker.
Rick Nash scored on the Blue Jackets’first shootout attempt but Mason Raymond, who also scored in regulation, gave the Canucks new life in the third round.
Antoine Vermette (Columbus) and Alex Burrows (Vancouver) also scored in the shootout.
“It seemed nobody wanted to win it,”said Luongo who foiled Nash and Derek Dorsett on breakaway attempts in the first period and R.J. Umberger and Matt Calvert later in the game.
“It was quite a treat tonight,”Luongo jokingly said of the odd-man rushes he faced from a Columbus team making a big push to get into a playoff position.
“Those guys are desperate, fighting for every point they can get. You’ve got to make sure we have that desperation level right now. Things are good for us, on top of the standings but teams are creeping up slowly.”
The suddenly inconsistent Canucks sit atop the NHL’s overall standings but have only five wins in their last 10 games.
Their 40-15-9 record moved Vancouver three points clear of Philadelphia, the Eastern Conference leaders. Vancouver also has a five-point cushion over second-place Detroit in the West.
Philadelphia has two games in hand on the Canucks while the Red Wings have one.
The second straight loss dropped Columbus to 31-24-7 but the point for a regulation tie enabled the Jackets to continue a playoff drive that has seen them win nine of 13 games.
After watching Mason either outguess or make deking Canuck shooters miss, Torres kept it simple.
“Go in there and try and get a good shot off,”was Torres’plan.“I wasn’t on the ice for more than a few minutes so I just wanted to make sure I got a good shot off.
“I wasn’t going to try and deke him or anything like that.”
Scottie Upshall, obtained at Monday’s trade deadline, paid immediate dividends for the Blue Jackets, tieing the game in the second period.
He took Sammy Pahlsson’s pass, settled the puck and snapped a shot over Luongo’s shoulder for his 17th goal of the season but the Canuck goalie stoned him in the shootout.
“It’s a long day but it’s over with,”said Upshall, who had travel problems getting here from Phoenix and eventually caught an early-morning flight from Las Vegas.
“I thought everyone really stepped up and it was a fun game.”
But Luongo was the difference Upshall said.
“He played like Roberto Luongo. We got one by him but he made some great saves and he covered his rebounds up.”
Raymond took advantage of some solid work along the boards by Ryan Kesler to get a scoring chance alone in front of Mason in the first period and beat him on the backhand.
The goal was Raymond’s 11th after a 25-goal campaign last season and ended a month-long 11-game drought.
“I have it in me,”Raymond said.“It’s a matter of going out there and doing it.
“I think over the lastlittle stretch I’ve had opportunities and they haven’t gone in. Those goals can make the difference.”
Columbus coach Scott Arniel, whose club killed a four-minute power play late in the game, said goaltending is the key to their post-season.
But the Blue Jackets remained 12th in the Western Conference, five points from a playoff spot.
“(Mason) stood tall when he had to,”Arniel said.“We had some great chances and (Luongo) made some big stops himself. He kept them in it.”
NOTES: … Both clubs iced re-tooled lineups as a result of Monday’s trade deadline … Maxim Lapierre, obtained from Anaheim, said he was nervous centring Vancouver’s fourth line. He had three assists but no goals in a 21-game stint with the Ducks … Jeff Tambellini joined Lapierre on the left-wing after three games as a healthy scratch … Upshall and defenceman Sami Lepisto joined the Jackets from Phoenix … Columbus plays its remaining 22 regular-season games in 43 days.