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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - The Devils were far from “wicked” Tuesday night at General Motors Place.
The Canucks ran up five goals on the previously red-hot Martin Brodeur, one of which came off one of the most unlikely sticks in the building as Aaron Miller broke a four-year scoring drought with a knuckler early in the game.
“It’s good to not play in a tight game and relax a bit in the third period,” said Miller, who last scored Nov. 27, 2003 - a span of 193 games. “The guys played great, Louie’s back and playing awesome, so it’s a pretty good effort.” .
“Obviously the puck was rolling for us tonight,” said Alain Vigneault. “Any time Millsy scores, the puck has to be rolling for you.”
For all the novelty of Miller scoring the game-winner, the story Tuesday night was fixed firmly in Roberto Luongo
After a trying road trip that saw the Canucks pick up three of a possible eight points, Luongo picked up right where he left off - shutting out teams on his home ice. .
“The guys played another great game in front of me, so you know, I didn’t have my game legs tonight, but I felt pretty sharp technically and a lot of perimeter shots and the guys took care of the rest,” said Luongo, who finished with 31 saves. .
It certainly didn’t hurt that the Canucks were supporting him at the other end.
Markus Naslund overcame the flu to score twice while Ryan Kesler
and Trevor Linden had the others as the Canucks are currently tied with 40 points atop the tight Northwest Division. .
While Luongo didn’t face the best of the Devils’ offence Tuesday, he did get tested early when Alex Edler gave a puck away just second in allowing Travis Zajac to skate in alone.
"For Roberto to come back and play like this, setting the tone right off the bat by saving the breakaway, he set the pace and got us going,” Naslund said.
Making his first start since Dec. 8 because of bruised ribs, Luongo's shutout was his fifth of the season, and fourth in his last five home starts.
“Roberto makes the saves when there’s a break-down, and that’s what happened tonight,” said Vigneault. “And for some reason Marty was a little bit off his game. I don’t know if it was the traveling out west - that five hour flight or something – but obviously they were a little bit off.”
Stopped 32 shots for his fifth shutout after returning from a rib contusion.
Scored two goals to snap a nine-game scoring slump.
Combined with Daniel to set Naslund up twice late in the game.
Brodeur finished with 19 saves for the Devils, who opened a rare Western Canada road trip with their third loss in five games. New Jersey is 2-3-1 since a nine-game winning streak.
Brodeur edged out Luongo for last season's Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender, but Luongo clearly outplayed him.
Luongo was at his best early and late in the first period, stopping Zajac on the early breakaway, and stuffing Sergei Brylin twice in tight with 10 seconds left.
"You want to be ready and unfortunately it was a bit of a bad bounce and ended up on the guy's stick, but things like that can change the game around,” Luongo said of the early breakaway. "If he scores there maybe it's a different game.”
“We had talked about needing a good start against this team, [because] they’re a different team when they have a lead, and obviously that first pass, that turnover, when Louie had to make that save off the bat, well, that was not the way we wanted to execute,” said Vigneault.
Whether that was the spark the Canucks needed or not, the team sharpened the razors the rest of the way.
“I think we had four lines going tonight, and generated a lot off the rush,” said Naslund, who now leads the team with 13 goals. “I think we got to do more of that drive to the net and get the pucks in the net.”
Kesler was proof of that. The rangy pivot blocked a Colin White points shot, then raced the length of the ice before bunting his own rebound over Brodeur’s pad with 225 pounds of New Jersey defenceman riding him into the end boards link a toboggan.
Kesler’s ninth of the year made it 2-0. Linden upped the lead with his third of the year just over a minute later, a slap shot over Brodeur’s glove. Naslund finished a pair of highlight-reel set-up from the Twins late in the second and early in the third to remove any notion of a late Devils resurrection.
“You go through stretches where you’re not going to score, but I think the key is to do the right thing and eventually it’s going to go in,” said Naslund, who hasn’t scored since a 4-0 win over the Ducks on November 27th.
Brodeur, who was 11-1-1 with a 1.68 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last 13 starts, was beaten cleanly a number of times and clearly wasn’t up to his usual all-world form.
"Every time I play against one of the top goalies I always look forward to the challenge," Brodeur said. "I was definitely disappointed we had that type of game."
It didn’t help any that Miller's point shot deflected behind the New Jersey keeper just 2:16 into the game – a knuckler that wobbled stick side.
"A long time, I couldn't tell you," Miller said when asked if he remembered when he last scored. "I think it was pre-lockout. It's good to get one and it's good to win a game. Louie’s back and played awesome.”