VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks can thank their special teams for preserving their winning streak.
The Canucks got a quick opening goal, scored on their only two power plays and killed six straight penalties in their sixth straight win, a 4-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Monday.
“It started off pretty well but we didn’t play the kind of hockey we need to to continue the way we started,” said Ryan Kesler who scored one of the power-play goals and stepped out of the penalty box to find an empty net with 3.4 seconds remaining.
“We’ve got to talk about it and learn from our mistakes and take the positives from this game.”
One of those positives was goalkeeper Roberto Luongo’s 33-save performance and killing a one-minute 29 second two-man advantage.
“We made this game a lot more stressful than it needed to be,” said Manny Malhotra, whose passes set up the first and last goals of the game. “I guess discipline can be a key issue for us.
“The last few games we’ve been down to four (skaters) in the last few minutes of the game and that’s not good going down the stretch so we’ve got to clean up that area.”
With Prime Minister Stephen Harper watching from the stands, Raffi Torres scored on the Canucks’second shot while Daniel Sedin and Kesler provided a 3-0 first-period cushion.
Andrew Brunette ended Minnesota’s scoring drought at two hours, 37 minutes and seven seconds with a goal late in the second period.
Mikko Koivu, returning after missing 11 games with a broken finger, also scored for the Wild, who entered the game following a pair of 4-0 losses.
The Canucks, who swept a five-game road trip prior to Monday’s game, improved to 46-16-9 to crack the 100-point plateau in a franchise-record time.
Vancouver is 10 points clear of Philadelphia for the overall NHL lead and 11 points ahead of Detroit for top spot in the Western Conference.
The win came with a price. Defenceman Sami Salo suffered an elbow injury after being hit by a Kyle Brodziak shot late in the first period.
Canuck coach Alain Vigneault said there were no broken bones and Salo would be re-evaluated Tuesday.
The oft-injured veteran missed the first 55 games of the campaign after severing an Achilles tendon during off-season conditioning.
The Wild lost their third consecutive game to drop to 35-28-7 and remain four points out of a playoff spot in the tightly contested West.
Torres scored from the top of the left face-off circle by ripping a wrist shot past goalie Niklas Backstrom’s blocker.
Sedin and Kesler’s goals gave the Canucks’ league-leading power play eight goals in its past 15 man advantage situations.
Both goals came with Minnesota defenceman Clayton Stoner in the penalty box. The first took six seconds, the second 69 after Vancouver put on a puck control exhibtion.
Then it was Luongo’s turn.
He foiled Martin Havlat’s break-in, turned aside a Brodziak deflection, was quick to cover a dangerous goalmouth scramble and stuck out a pad to beat Brent Burns’rebound attempt.
Brunette finally got to him late in the second period when he tipped in Koivu’s centring pass. Koivu drew the Wild to within a goal early in the final period by backhanding in a rebound.
“I think we had a lot of chances,” Koivu said of the Wild power play.
“It’s a matter of putting the puck to the net. Give them some credit, but you’ve got to believe that chances like that, sooner or later, will go in.”
Forward John Madden said the Wild can’t continue to cough up early leads.
“We’ve got to push on, but at some point, you’ve got to realize what the trend is that’s going on here–and that’s spotting teams a couple goals and trying to come back.”
Luongo, who recorded his 33rd win of the season, said the Canucks expected a hard push by Minnesota, which outshot Vancouver 35-22 and limited the Canucks to 10 shots in the final 40 minutes.
“They’re obviously in desperation mode,” Luongo said. “They were pinching (defencemen), they were doing whatever it took to create some offence.”
But the penalty killers shepherded home the win.
“We had some good box-outs in front of the net and they didn’t really have anything back door,” Luongo said. “Most shots were from angles from where I could take care of it.”
NOTES: Forward Chris Higgins, acquired at the trade deadline, made his home debut as a Canuck in his 400th NHL game. He previously appeared in Vancouver as a Florida Panther, Calgary Flame, Montreal Canadien and a New York Ranger. … Rugged Harold Snepsts, who played 12 years on the Vancouver blue-line, was inducted into the club’s ring of honour as part of the Canucks’40th anniversary celebrations. … Goalie Josh Harding, who suffered torn right knee ligaments in a pre-season game, skated with the Wild in the morning.