After an early season hangover, the Vancouver Canucks are once again playing like the team that dominated the NHL for much of last season.
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Henrik Sedin and Andrew Alberts scored goals less than a minute apart in the second period and Cory Schneider made 43 saves to lead the Canucks to their season-best fourth straight win, 3-2 over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.
With three road wins in four days, the Canucks have broken out of the funk they had been in since losing the Stanley Cup final in seven games to Boston.
”’We were kind of waiting for this to happen,” forward Daniel Sedin said. ”We have a good team. We know if we play the right way, how good we can be. It was a matter of time until we turned the corner and we have now.”
Manny Malhotra also scored for the Canucks, who picked up where they left off in beating the Sharks in five games in the Western Conference final last spring.
Andrew Murray and Patrick Marleau scored, and Antti Niemi made 24 saves for the Sharks, who had won four straight and six of seven.
”It’s probably the best game we’ve played in the last five and it’s the one we happened to lose,” coach Todd McLellan said. ”There are some things that showed up in tonight’s game that we’ve been working on the last couple days.”
Vancouver has won four straight games for the first time since taking the last two against San Jose in May and the first two in the Stanley Cup final. The Canucks ended up losing that series to the Bruins in seven games and started this season slowly.
That all changed during this recent run with Schneider in goal instead of Roberto Luongo. Schneider got the chance when Luongo sustained an upper-body injury and has stayed in goal because of his strong play, allowing three goals in the four-game streak that has the Canucks back on track.
”You could see signs of it earlier, but to go on a tough trip like this, it’s huge for our confidence and the way we want to play our game,” Schneider said. ”Sometimes the road will do that to you, It will make you simplify your game and make things easier on you.”
Vancouver took control with the two goals midway through the second period. The first came with the man advantage after Sharks captain Joe Thornton slashed Alexandre Burrows with 5 seconds left in a San Jose power play.
Vancouver’s top-ranked power-play unit struck quickly, just like it did in scoring nine power-play goals in the five-game series last May. Niemi gave up a long rebound on a shot from Dan Hamhuis and Henrik Sedin took the puck in the faceoff circle and sneaked a shot inside the post to give the Canucks a 2-1 lead.
Just 50 seconds later, Alberts got his first goal of the season when his wrist shot from the point beat Niemi.
The Canucks then killed off a couple of power plays and got a stellar effort from Schneider the rest of the way to follow up a 5-0 win in Phoenix on Friday night with another road victory against a playoff team.
The Sharks made it interesting when Marleau scored with 1:15 remaining and Niemi on the bench, but San Jose couldn’t get the equalizer.
”We played well, we just didn’t capitalized on some of the grade A chances we had,” Thornton said. ”I thought we deserved a better fate.”
The teams traded goals in a first period that included some lingering tension. San Jose’s Brad Winchester and Vancouver’s Aaron Volpatti squared off just over 2 minutes into the game in a lengthy continuation of a fight that started in the preseason. Winchester landed the biggest blow with his right hand but both players got in some good shots.
”Obviously their fans don’t really like us, they don’t really like us, we don’t really like them,” Schneider said. ”It always feels like a playoff game, whether it’s November or March or June. So it’s a fun team to play against.”
The Canucks then once again capitalized on a fortuitous bounce, although this one was much less significant than the one that led to Kevin Bieksa’s double-overtime goal that eliminated the Sharks from last season’s playoffs. Malhotra sent in what appeared to be a harmless centering pass from the corner with no teammates in front of the net. The puck bounced off Douglas Murray’s skate and went past Niemi for the first goal.
The Sharks tied it late in the period when Andrew Murray got his first goal for San Jose.
Notes: Vancouver won for the first time in five tries on the back end of back-to-back games. … Canucks D Alexander Edler left in the second period with an upper-body injury after being hit by Jamie McGinn. … The Sharks recalled F Frazer McLaren from Worcester of the AHL where he had been on a conditioning assignment.