VANCOUVER – Regarded by many in Vancouver as the most clutch hockey player in Canucks history, Trevor Linden bolstered that reputation on Sunday.
The 37-year-old broke open a tie game with two goals five minutes apart in the second period to help Vancouver snap a season-worst four-game losing streak with a convincing 6-2 victory over the Calgary Flames.
“It feels good, what can I say?” said Linden. “Huge night, huge game for us obviously. It’s just nice to have it go our way a little bit. We had a tough week last week. It’s nice to win the way we did and for me, personally, it was nice to get a little luck around the net.”
The Canucks looked unsure of themselves to start the contest, surrendering the first goal 1:13 into the game, but thanks to Linden they had a dominant three-goal second period.
Linden got the fun started at 1:53 of the middle frame when he took a nifty Byron Ritchie feed, waited for Miikka Kiprusoff to go down and lifted the puck over Kiprusoff’s glove.
Linden, the second-leading scorer in franchise history behind Naslund, upped the score to 4-2 less than five minutes later, corralling a rebound in front and sliding the puck into the empty net.
“That’s how you score the goals,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. “You’ve got to go to the tough areas, and a lot of times you’ve got to take a lot of abuse and that’s what he did.”
Recognizing that this may be Linden’s last season in Vancouver and possibly the NHL – the veteran of 1,379 NHL games has been a healthy scratch 23 times this season – the sellout crowd of 18,630 gave him a rousing ovation when he was named the game’s first star.
“I didn’t exactly know what I was supposed to do, it’s been a while since I was first star,” chuckled Linden, who last scored twice in a game on Feb. 25, 2003. “The fans hadn’t seen me for a long time after a game, so it was pretty special.”
Sami Salo, Markus Naslund, Matt Pettinger and Brad Isbister also scored for Vancouver (39-30-10), which moved back into eighth place in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Nashville Predators.
“There are a lot of teams in this (playoff race),” Vigneault said. “Edmonton is there, Nashville is there, Calgary is there, Colorado is there. Everybody is right in the mix. It’s interesting, to say the least.”
David Moss and Matthew Lombardi replied for Calgary (40-29-10), which lost its second game in as many nights and fell five points behind Minnesota (43-28-9) for the Northwest Division lead and the coveted third seed in the Western Conference. The Flames are just two points ahead of the Canucks.
“Our defensive zone coverage was real poor down low – I guess that’s what bothered me the most,” said Flames coach Mike Keenan.
The game certainly started in Calgary’s favour.
Moss, who had been a healthy scratch the previous five games, opened scoring on Calgary’s first shot by tipping Cory Sarich’s point shot through goaltender Roberto Luongo’s legs.
After Salo tied the game with a power-play goal, his third tally in five games, Lombardi responded late in the first period to seemingly give Calgary all the momentum.
But Vancouver responded 27 seconds later when Naslund went hard to the net to poke Daniel Sedin’s rebound past Kiprusoff.
“Getting off to a bad start like that and then battling back…. Markus’s goal at the end of the first period was huge,” Linden said. “It gave us a decent feeling in the room after one, and we played pretty good in the second period.”
Kiprusoff was pulled after Linden’s second goal, but backup Curtis Joseph didn’t fare much better.
He surrendered a goal to Pettinger at 12:16 of the second period and a sharp-angle tally from Isbister 52 seconds into the third period.
“He was left defenceless,” Keenan said of his starting netminder. “I don’t know if you noticed, but they run him over in the first period when they scored the goal (by Naslund) and knocked his facemask off, so if they’re not going to protect him I’m going to get him out of there at that point in the game, when it was pretty much decided.”
NOTES: The Canucks improved to 7-1-3 in their past 11 home games. … Flames centre Craig Conroy left the game in the first period with what the team is calling a torso injury. … Daymond Langkow, Calgary’s third leading scorer with 63 points in 77 games, missed the contest because his father-in-law died on Sunday. Langkow is expected back against Edmonton on Tuesday. … Rhett Warrener (foot), Mark Smith, David Hale and Eric Nystrom were Calgary’s other scratches, while Rick Rypien and Nathan McIver sat for the Canucks. … VANOC confirmed Sunday that GM Place will play host to hockey games at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.