ST. PAUL, Minn. – Dearly missing Roberto Luongo, the Vancouver Canucks were looking for a lift. The usual back-and-forth with the Minnesota Wild provided precisely the energy they needed.
Kevin Bieksa’s power-play goal and an early scuffle sparked Vancouver in the first period, and goalie Cory Schneider picked up his first career victory for the Canucks in a 2-1 decision over the Minnesota Wild on a fight-filled Friday night.
“It was an intense-played game from the start, a physical game,” Canucks coach Allan Vigneault said. “That permitted us to really get involved and execute throughout the game. We were definitely better defensively tonight, and when we did make mistakes our goaltender came up with big saves.”
Vancouver’s four-game losing streak ended, and Minnesota fell to 0-3 this season against its chief Northwest Division rival.
“They didn’t give us much,” Wild centre Eric Belanger said. “In the first period, and a half, I’d say we were chasing the puck everywhere on the ice. Its hard to get anything going. You can’t get your legs going. You can’t get your hands. Your mind is not there, because you don’t have the puck and you’re thinking about it too much.”
Jason Jaffray scored in the second period to give the Canucks the lead back after Mikko Koivu slammed a long rebound past Schneider just 27 seconds after the first intermission.
Goalie Niklas Backstrom tried to squeeze his glove on Jaffray’s shot, but it zoomed underneath.
Schneider, Vancouver’s first-round draft pick out of Boston College in 2004, made his NHL debut earlier this month after the stalwart Luongo strained a groin muscle in his left leg. His injury came right before the losing streak.
“It’s a great feeling, kind of like a monkey off your back,” Schneider said, adding: “It’s exciting to help without a key player like that.”
The Wild didn’t challenge Schneider much, managing only one even-strength shot on net in the first period and committing 10 giveaways in the second period. They were outshot 31-17 for the game.
“We have to play with more intensity when you play a team like this,” coach Jacques Lemaire said. “They don’t give you much room, so if you’re not skating you’re in trouble.”
These teams have never had much appreciation for each other. Barely 20 seconds into the game, Minnesota’s Brent Burns levelled Vancouver agitator Alex Burrows – who incited a brawl last March by spearing scrawny Wild centre Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Minnesota’s James Sheppard and Canucks alternate captain Ryan Kesler mixed it up after the Burns-Burrows collision, and both drew five minutes for fighting.
The chirping and chipping didn’t end, of course. In the third period, Jaffray and Burns went at it and were stuck with major penalties while Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard and Darcy Hordichuk of the Canucks were ejected with game misconducts. Boogaard and former teammate Willie Mitchell frequently went at each other.
“It’s the game within the game,” Mitchell said. “He knows that, and it’s a lot of fun to be a part of.”
The Wild complained that Sheppard, who rarely drops the gloves, was targeted. The Canucks were annoyed that Burns chose to exchange blows with Jaffray, another non-fighter, when others were trying to engage him.
Lemaire was upset with Vigneault and his staff, too, for what he called constant lobbying of the officials for future favour.
“At a time, it pays off,” Lemaire said. “This team, that’s the way they do it. It’s every game. Every game.”
The flying fists and bodies against the boards helped keep the crowd entertained in spite of a lacklustre offensive effort by the home team. Koivu extended his career-best point streak to seven games with his goal, but the Wild were hurting up front again. All that time in the penalty box didn’t help, but they credited the Canucks for their crafty, cohesive play.
Coming off an energetic 4-0 win over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, the Wild wrapped up a stretch of eight out of nine games at home at 3-5. They started and finished with losses to the Canucks.
“We didn’t try to force the issue and just played the same type of game they did,” Mitchell said, “and we’ve had pretty good results against them so far this season.”
Notes: The Wild lost RW Owen Nolan to another lower-body injury in the first period. He did not return. Nolan missed eight of the first 24 games. … Schneider led the AHL with a 10-1 record and 1.37 goals-against average at the time of his callup on Nov. 24, two days after Luongo’s injury. … Hordichuk returned after missing the previous two games with a broken foot. … Nick Schultz assisted on Koivu’s goal, only his second point of the season.