Conklin stopped 35 shots in regulation and overtime, then outplayed all-star netminder Roberto Luongo in the shootout to lead Columbus to a 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
“He works hard (in practice), stays out there late, takes extra shots off the helmet . . . ” said Columbus’s Anson Carter, who got his club started with a goal 18 seconds into the game. “And whenever a guy like that gets a chance, you want to play hard for him.”
Chances are few for Conklin this season after playing 18 games for the Edmonton Oilers last year and getting into 38 contests in 2003-’04.
But he’s heading to Edmonton for a game Wednesday night as the Blue Jackets’ No. 1 netminder after backup Fredrik Norrena went down with a groin pull and Pascal Leclair had arthroscopic knee surgery in December.
“He was stopping second and third shots and he never gave up too many rebounds,” Carter said of Conklin, who came into the game with one win and an anemic .874 save percentage in seven appearances this season. “He hasn’t played much recently because Freddy Norrena has been playing so well but he battles every day in practice for us.”
David Vyborny was first to score for Columbus in the shootout when he faked Luongo to the ice. Nikolai Zherdev won it by firing over Luongo’s glove.
The only Canuck to beat Conklin was Brendan Morrison, who scored for the fifth time in six shootout attempts this season.
Conklin forced Markus Naslund to shoot wide and smothered Josh Green’s effort from close in.
The native of Eagle River, Alaska said facing Luongo gave him incentive to play well.
“You’re not going to get a lot of cheap goals (against Luongo),” he said. “That’s why a lot of goalies get up to play against him.
“I felt pretty good out there. I’ve been getting into games in spots.”
Carter scored when the puck deflected to him off defender Lukas Krajicek’s stick for an easy backhand on Luongo’s doorstep.
The goal was the second in as many games for Carter and the 200th of his career. He scored 33 times for Vancouver last year.
Dan Fritsche also prolonged a scoring streak by scoring his third goal in as many games for a 2-1 lead. His unassisted marker on the power play ended a string of 35 Canuck penalty kills.
Daniel Sedin and Sami Salo scored power-play goals for Vancouver, which lost for the third time in four games but has dropped only two decisions in regulation time in the last 15 games.
The result means the Canucks (28-19-4) share first place with Calgary in the tight Northwest Division.
The Blue Jackets, 16-12-3 since Ken Hitchcock took over as coach, are also looking to move up in the standings.
“We’ve got a lot of goals in mind,” Fritsche said his club’s fourth straight win. “We still have our playoff sights ahead of us and we need to finish off strong with Edmonton and Calgary (on Friday) and this is a good start.”
Columbus improved to 21-25-5 after beating top teams like Buffalo and Detroit as well as Minnesota.
“We’re certainly not getting fat beating teams at the bottom of the standings,” said Carter. “We’re just competing hard and we’re not turning pucks over in the grey zone areas and we’re being strong in front of our own net.
“This time of year, that’s what hockey’s all about.”
The Canucks outshot Columbus 37-28 and lost despite having an edge in that department for the first time in 14 games.
“I think it was our game to lose,” said Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa. “I think we felt we outplayed them for the most part . . . we just couldn’t pull the trigger.”
Naslund said Vancouver played well enough to get the third goal in regulation.
“The work ethic was good,” he said. “I don’t know if it was a matter of their goalie being hot.”
NOTES: Columbus’s Rotislav Klesla played his 300th game . . . Canuck defenceman Willie Mitchell, who has missed six games with a groin injury, says there’s an outside chance he could return Thursday against Edmonton . . . Vancouver centre Rick Rypien, out with a groin tear since Dec. 4, says he could be back in about two weeks . . . Rypien is a candidate to replace Ryan Kesler, who underwent hip surgery for a torn labrum and will be out at least 12 weeks.