NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Canucks can feel that tailwind starting to blow.
After enduring a lengthy post-holiday swoon that dropped them below the playoff line, the Canucks are back on track. They’ve won three straight after a 3-2 shootout victory over Nashville Thursday, and have shoved their way back into the post-season picture.
It was equal parts grit and good fortune in a 3-2 OT win over the Wild Tuesday, though Thursday’s win in the Music City was all finesse.
Roberto Luongo made 49 saves and Mason Raymond scored two goals, including one in a shootout, to move the Canucks within two points of Nashville in the Western Conference standings, and three points of the Northwest lead.
"This game was all Roberto," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "And we're not going to apologize for it because so many times this year we outplayed the opposition and got on the wrong side of it."
Luongo was superb stopping all three shootout attempts he faced, and backstopping a tired penalty kill for a full two minutes in overtime, against a Nashville side that out shot Vancouver 51-30.
And while Luongo’s heroics were most certainly deserving of first-star honours, Raymond edged the keeper with his best game in a Canucks uniform.
Raymond not only scored the game’s opening goal – his sixth of the season – with a highlight reel effort that was capped by a seeing-eye backhand, he assisted on Alexander Edler’s second-period marker and duped Chris Mason in the shootout.
"It's day-by-day and you are always working harder to better yourself," Raymond said. "When you get a goal under your belt it gives you a bit of confidence. Confidence can carry you a long way."
Jason Arnott and Marek Zidlicky scored power-play goals in regulation for the Predators.
The Canucks, who have been dogged by injuries for most of the season, are finally beginning to look like the team that was picked to repeat as division champs back in October.
Best game in the NHL yet. Scored a beauty in the first, then lifted a nifty one over Mason in the shootout.
Stops 49 pucks, then stones the Preds in the shootout. What else could you ask for?
A goal and an assist for the Preds' top forward. Too bad he didn't get a shot in the shootout.
Taylor Pyatt returned from an “upper body” injury suffered Saturday in Edmonton, and Kevin Bieksa, who suffered a lacerated calf muscle back in November, made his first NHL appearance in 47 games.
Bieksa logged a conservative 15:48 of ice time, but wasted no time making an impression charging to the aid of Henrik Sedin who was run by Nashville agitator Jordin Tootoo early in the second period.
Thursday night marked the second overtime game in a row for the Canucks, and the 14th time they’ve gone to a shootout this season – an NHL high.
For Nashville, it was the third overtime game in the last four and their fourth game in a row to be decided by one goal. "The thing I like about this game is no one is satisfied with just one point," Nashville's J.P. Dumont said. "There is a lot of frustration right now."
Raymond, the first shooter for the Canucks, scored on a backhand shot over Predators goaltender Mason, who was laying down on the ice after biting on a faked wrist shot.
Luongo then stopped Alexander Radulov, watched as Dumont shot wide, then thrust a stick on a David Legwand shot to seal the victory for Vancouver.
The Canucks got on the board first, though only after Luongo snapped a certain goal out of mid-air with a glove on an early Nashville man advantage on a play.
Raymond skated, undefended, across the goal mouth beat Mason from the right side with 52 seconds left in the first period. Arnott tied the game on a 5-on-3 power play at 5:42 of the second period. J.P. Dumont passed the puck from the right to the left side to Arnott who fired the one-timer high over the back of Luongo from low inside the left circle.
Edler put the Canucks back in the lead on the power play at 12:49 of the second period. Raymond passed the puck to Edler just inside the blue line and he blasted a one-timer between Mason's legs.
Zidlicky tied the game at 2 on a power-play goal at the 13:58 mark. His shot from the left circle beat Luongo low to his stick side.
"We came back twice in this game," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "It is the third straight game we have had a comeback in the third period.
"It is a matter of resiliency. We are going to have playoff games the rest of the way through. Games like this will prepare us for the playoffs if we get in."
Notes: Both Luc Bourdon and Nathan McIver sat out Thursday night as Mike Weaver held his spot in the line-up… Trevor Linden did not dress, though Raymond stepped up in his absence and scored the crucial shootout winner… Pyatt logged 14:05 playing primarily on a line with Ryan Kesler and Alexander Burrows…Ryan Shannon had two assist and finished a plus-one in just over 12 minutes, though was stuffed by a pad in his shootout attempt...Lukas Krajicek will have surgery on his right shoulder.
1 - 0 VAN
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 VAN