PIC OF THE GAME
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -On paper it looked like the kind of game you could safely wager the farm on, but then that’s why Las Vegas owns vast stretches of ranchland.
The Avalanche hadn’t won in eight games and the Canucks had a chance to take the division lead against an opponent who’s so far down in the Western Conference cellar you need a flashlight to find them in the standings.
Of course nothing is quite as uncertain as a sure thing.
T.J Galiardi scored twice, Peter Budaj made 20 saves, and the Colorado Avalanche snapped an eight-game losing streak with a surprising 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night.
Milan Hejduk had a goal and two assists, and Ben Guite also scored to help Colorado snap an 0-7-1 skid and put a dent in the Canucks' playoff positioning.
“I can’t really explain it,” said Shane O’Brien, one of 11 Canucks to finish a minus Sunday night.
“Obviously we came out a little flat. We’re fighting for our division here and we’ve got to find a way… Unfortunately we didn’t get the effort that we wanted tonight, but this group has bounced back all year, so we’re going to put this behind us.”
The Canucks are trying to finish the year atop the Northwest Division. But coming off a 5-3 loss in Edmonton Saturday night, and playing at home for just the second time in the last nine games, they couldn't take advantage of an injury-riddled team in last place in the Western Conference.
Pavol Demitra snapped Budaj's shutout bid with 4:38 left, but by then it was too late as the Canucks lost three straight games for the first time since an eight-game losing skid at the end of January. They followed that by going 20-5-1 in February and March, but are 0-2-1 in April.
“It’s certainly not what we expected,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “In everyone’s mind this was a game that would put us one step closer to a championship in our division and possibly home ice. We didn’t play very well. They played a strong defensive game and were the better team on the ice tonight.”
Vancouver remained tied with Calgary atop the Northwest Division, and fell three points behind fourth-place Chicago in the race for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Flames, who have played one fewer game, host Los Angeles on Monday before traveling to Vancouver for a showdown Tuesday.
Goalie Roberto Luongo gave up four goals on under 26 shots for the second consecutive night. The Canucks captain and defensive cornerstone was critical of the entire effort that drew a smattering of boos from the General Motors Place crowd.
With another two Sunday, the Avs rookie upped his career total to three goals - all against Vancouver.
He was as good as he had to be. Made 20 saves, including five in the first when the Canucks had life.
A goal and two assists. Bit of a tired story in Vancouver. Canucks killer yadda yadda...
“There are no excuses tonight. That was a game we needed to have. We all need to give a little more, starting with myself trying to make one or two more saves, and help everyone else out,” Luongo said.
Vancouver only managed five shots in the first period – and none in the second before Guite made it 2-0 7:44 into the middle frame. Hejduk and Galiardi made it 4-0 with back-to-back goals in the third before Demitra broke Budaj’s shutout.
Galiardi’s two goals Sunday bumped his NHL career total to three – his only other goal coming against the Canucks earlier in the season. The pair of goals not only helped clinch a surprising 4-1 win, but gave his father - who was visiting from Calgary – an extra reason to smile.
"My parents were here and my dad is a big Calgary fan so he was saying to get the win for them because obviously Vancouver is on their tail, so it's kind of funny it worked out that way," Galiardi said. "But we're more focused on ourselves in here, and we want to finish the year off hard."
The game started with an emotional tribute and moment of silence for the fiancee of Canucks forward Taylor Pyatt, Carly Bragnalo, who was killed in a car crash Friday while vacationing with family in Jamaica. Pyatt missed his second game and has been given an indefinite leave of absence by the team.
Several Vancouver players have pledged to win for the missing teammate, but gave a sellout crowd of 18,630 little reason to get loud after the moment of silence. "We didn't look like we had a lot of jump or a lot of legs tonight, for whatever reason," Vigneault said.
"You might think we've played 10 games in 10 different cities and that might have taken it's toll, and I know our guys are a very tight group and their wives and girlfriends are very tight and obviously the Taylor situation is a little bit challenging. But I know we're stronger than what we showed tonight, even though it's 10 different games in 10 different cities and a very personal loss to one of our family members."
Galiardi opened the scoring on a delayed penalty 7:32 into the first, one-timing a hard shot form the slot over Roberto Luongo's glove after Canucks defensemen Shane O'Brien and Kevin Bieksa collided along the side boards.
Galiardi made it 4-0 with 7:56 left, beating Luongo from a sharp angle for his third NHL goal - all coming against the Canucks - in his seventh career game.
"I thought I had some chances against other teams, but just lucky enough to get a couple tonight on great plays by (linemates Darcy) Tucker and Hejduk," Galiardi said. "I'd obviously you've got to be grateful to score on a guy like Luongo two times, so I'm pretty happy about that right now."
They Canucks weren't happy after being outshot 26-21 by a team in the midst of the longest winless streak (0-7-1) since the franchise moved to Colorado in 1995.
The Avalanche did get forward Wojtek Wolski back after missing three games to illness, and he set up Guite's goal. But Colorado was still missing 10 regulars to injury, including four defensemen and four top-six forwards.
Vancouver only managed five shots in the first period - none before Guite made it 2-0 7:44 into the second with a quick shot from inside the left faceoff circle that went between the legs of both defenseman Willie Mitchell and Luongo.
Hejduk made it 3-0 5 minutes into the third after a bad giveaway by Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler in front of Luongo, who finished with 22 saves.
"We're not a team that's going to make excuses," said Luongo. "There's no reason to use that as an excuse. If anything, you want to play hockey for Taylor and get a win for the guy."
“We’re not giving up more chances or more shots, we just seem to be making some bad mistakes, not at the right time and they’re finding the back of the net," said Vigneault. "We didn’t look like we had a lot of jump or legs tonight for whatever reason."
Notes: D Aaron MacKenzie became the 10th Colorado player to make his NHL debut this season, the most in a single season in Avalanche history. ... It was the Canucks' first regulation loss at home since Jan. 28, an 11-0-2 streak that included a franchise-record 11-straight wins at GM Place. ... Canucks C Henrik Sedin had a seven-game point streak snapped at five goals and nine assists. ... Colorado captain Joe Sakic took the morning skate, but isn't sure he'll play again after missing all but 15 games because of back and hand injuries.