For the second straight night, the Vancouver Canucks couldn't finish what they started as they surrendered a 1-0 lead to the Minnesota Wild on Monday night, losing 3-1 to drop to second place in the Northwest division. It marks the second straight game where the Canucks have faced the Wild with the division lead on the line and lost.
The Canucks came out looking about as good as you could in the first period without scoring. Despite not being able to put a puck in the back of the net, the Canucks pressured Niklas Backstrom early, outshooting the Wild 10-8 in the first period. The Canucks had two power play opportunities in the first period, and while they couldn't cash in on either power play, the Canucks were able to maintain the puck in the zone and put some pressure on Backstrom.
Vancouver also played good, physical hockey in the opening period, including a physical shift from the fourth line where Tom Sestito delivered two punishing hits in a matter of seconds.
In the second period, we witnessed what can simply be called a miracle at this point. After 36 power plays without a goal, the Canucks ended the drought halfway through the second period. The goal was set up by a vicious one-timer from Jason Garrison, which was bravely blocked by Daniel Sedin who sacrificed his body to screen Backstrom. The screen and deflection allowed Henrik Sedin to score his eighth goal of the season, ending the Canucks power play drought.
That would be the last mistake Backstrom would make for the rest of the night. Five minutes later, the Wild added a power play goal of their own as Jonas Brodin fired a slap shot on net that even Garrison would be proud of. The goal tied the game at one goal each.
Then in the third, the wheels started to fall off for the Canucks. Just over three minutes into the final period, Clayton Stoner sent in a slap shot that was tipped in by Charlie Coyle to give the Wild a 2-1 lead. The dagger came at 9:17 in the period as Keith Ballard attempted to deliver a hit on Matt Cullen as Cullen and Devin Setoguchi skated into the Vancouver zone. Ballard failed to deliver a clean hit as Cullen slipped by, received the easy pass from Setoguchi and beat Luongo as he was all alone to give the Wild a 3-1 lead. Ballard's agressive play proved to be all the Wild would need to hang on for the win, reclaiming first place in the Northwest.
Monday night's contest was the final time the Canucks will see the Wild in the regular season. After winning the first two games, the Canucks dropped the final two games versus the Wild, surrendering the division lead both times. Vancouver dropped from third to seventh in the Western Conference on Monday night after losing the division lead. In a shortened season, winning the division is proving to be more both more important, and more difficult than ever. In a conference where the third place team and eighth place team are separated by just four points, winning the Northwest is essential if the Canucks have any hopes of avoiding a repeat episode of last year's first round performance in the playoffs. Otherwise, the playoff beards might be just five o'clock shadows.