The Goods: Sharpshooter
Normally Raffi Torres is far from a shootout specialist, but against the Columbus Blue Jackets, he fit the bill.
As the eighth Vancouver Canucks shooter and 16th shooter of the shootout, Torres beat goaltender Steve Mason to put the Canucks up 3-2 in the one-on-one battle and give the home team a 2-1 win.
Part of the reason Torres didn’t disappoint: his inside knowledge on the Blue Jackets.
Go back two seasons and Torres was playing in Columbus, alongside Mason, who he still trains with in the off-season. He’s scored a few goals on the netminder in his day and that certainly helped him with his game-deciding goal on this night, his third shootout game-winner and fourth shootout goal of his career.
Torres was thinking shot all the way.
“I hadn’t seen the ice in a few minutes, so if anything I just wanted to get a good shot off, I wasn’t going to deke or anything like that,” said Torres, who had his name chanted by the fans before he shot.
“I kind of figured it would be coming up to me, so after the fifth or sixth guy I thought I better figure out what I wanted to do. I just wanted to get a shot on net and I think it worked out well.”
If only coach Alain Vigneault had recalled that Torres had information on Mason before it was almost too late.
It took a solid 65-plus minute performance from Roberto Luongo to push the Canucks to 40 wins for the 11th time in franchise history. Bobby Lu stopped six of eight shooters in the shootout after allowing just a single goal on 31 shots in regulation and overtime.
To prepare Luongo for the looming shootout battle, the Canucks gave up a lengthy breakaway early in the second to Columbus’ RJ Umberger; the Blue Jackets forward went in from his own blueline after Fedor Tyutin blocked a Dan Hamhuis point shot on the power play.
A big save on Umberger there and Luongo was off to the races in his 28th win of the season.
“My first thought was ‘oh no,’ and then I had enough time to get ready for a breakaway,” laughed Luongo, on the Umberger scoring chance. “It was clear cut from their own blueline and I played it pretty much like a shootout there.”
In the back and forth shootout, which had Mason Raymond and Alex Burrows score for the Canucks and Rick Nash and Antoine Vermette reply for the Blue Jackets, it came down to Luongo making some larger than life stops to keep the Canucks alive.
The scrappy Blue Jackets needed this win to remain in the playoff hunt in the Western Conference, but the Canucks did just enough get the win and continue their flip-flop of wins and losses to 10 games.
“A couple of times we were on the brink of losing there and Mason and Burr scored some big ones for us,” said Luongo. “Like I’ve always said, you lose some, you win some, in the shootout you never know and fortunately tonight we ended up on the good side of it.”
The Canucks, who played in five one-goal games in February, will be facing desperate opponents the rest of the season and coach Vigneault is confident his players can find it within themselves to put together a better 60-minute effort than they did versus the Blue Jackets.
“Before tonight’s game Detroit was three points behind us and at the end of the day, we haven’t done anything yet, we haven’t locked up a playoff spot, we haven’t locked up first in our division, we haven’t locked up the conference, so we still have a lot to play for,” said Vigneault.
“I’m confident that this group knows that and that they’re going to get themselves into the mental state that they need to so that they can go on the ice and execute the way they can.”
Maxim Lapierre didn’t score in his Canucks debut, he didn’t record an assist either, but he did pick up some stats.
Lapierre was assessed a holding penalty just 3:17 into the first period and although Vancouver killed off the man advantage, it was far from the start the newcomer was hoping for.
Kevin Bieksa can relate.
In Bieksa’s first game with the Canucks back on December 19, 2005, the defenceman took a roughing penalty a mere 10 seconds into the game on his first NHL shift in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
If Bieksa can recover from that, Lapierre will be just fine.
Coach Vigneault hesitated to give an assessment of the forward’s first outing with the product of Saint-Léonard, Quebec, playing just 5:41 on 10 shifts.
“It was his first game,” said Vigneault, “I think obviously he might have been a little nervous and I’m confident that it’s going to get better.”
Lapierre skated alongside Tanner Glass and Jeff Tambellini going 2-for-6 at the faceoff circle.
The Canucks are now 3-0-0 versus the Blue Jackets this season with one game remaining; Vancouver has won six straight games versus Columbus; the Canucks are 4-2-0 in their last six games at Rogers Arena having allowed just one power play goal in 19 attempts against.