(ISN) – VANCOUVER — Chris Higgins started the Vancouver Canucks’ comeback against the Winnipeg Jets midway through the second period. When he saw linemate Radim Vrbata cutting alone to the net with a minute left in the period, he was confident Vrbata would complete it.
Vrbata put the Canucks ahead for good with a pretty move past a sprawled goaltender Michael Hutchinson, and added a second goal into an empty net to cap Vancouver’s rally from a two-goal deficit in a 5-2 victory against the Jets at Rogers Arena on Tuesday.
“He’s just kind of an assassin,” Higgins said of Vrbata, who also had an assist. “It’s incredible watching him around the net, so much poise and patience. He’s very aware of how much time he has around the net. It’s impressive to watch.”
VANCOUVER, BC – March 24: Derek Dorsett #51 of the Vancouver Canucks is sent flying after colliding with Lee Stempniak #20 of the Winnipeg Jets during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on March 24, 2015 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Derek Cain / ISN)
Defenseman Yannick Weber scored on a power play between the goals by Higgins and Vrbata as Vancouver scored three times in the final 9:03 of the second period. Henrik Sedin also scored into an empty net and had two assists, helping the Canucks (43-26-4) extend their winning streak to three games. Vancouver is in second place in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of the Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings. Each team has nine games remaining.
“Everybody knows how important this game was,” Vrbata said. “Even though we were down 2-0, we didn’t give up and were able to turn it around in the second and play well defensively in the third.”
Jiri Tlusty and Blake Wheeler scored, and Hutchinson made 25 saves for the Jets, who were playing on back-to-back nights and had their winning streak snapped at five games.
Winnipeg (38-24-12) is two points ahead of the Kings, who defeated the New York Rangers 4-2 earlier Tuesday, for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. But the Jets have played one more game than Los Angeles.
“We gave what we had,” said coach Paul Maurice, whose team won 4-1 at the Edmonton Oilers on Monday. “We were better than I thought we were going to be able to be through the first 30 minutes of that hockey game and didn’t win. We were as good as we were physically able to be.”
Winnipeg had a couple of late chances to tie the game, but goalie Eddie Lack made the best three of his 26 saves in the late stages of the game, stopping Michael Frolik twice from the slot with three minutes left and then using his glove to rob Mark Scheifele in the final minute.
“That could change the game and momentum again,” Vrbata said. “He made a great save and we were able to hold on.”
Maurice said the game turned on Weber’s power-play goal with 3:31 left in the second period and Tlusty in the penalty box for holding. It wasn’t just because the Canucks tied the game on Weber’s screen shot from the point, but because they controlled the play for a long time before scoring, which wore down the Jets’ penalty-killers.
VANCOUVER, BC – March 24: Dan Hamhuis #2 of the Vancouver Canucks checks Drew Stafford #12 of the Winnipeg Jets during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on March 24, 2015 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Derek Cain / ISN)
“We win the draw and don’t get the clear and you are always better off if it just goes in your net,” Maurice said. “But now we’re running four guys so long it changes the rotation coming off the bench the next three or four shifts. We couldn’t get a handle on it.”
Vrbata put Vancouver ahead 2:31 later. Henrik Sedin chipped the puck down the left boards to Vrbata behind the defense; he took it to the net and got Hutchinson to commit before patiently skating across the crease and lifting his 28th goal into the other side.
“A lot of nights you don’t really see him out there, but once he gets the puck on his stick you see the first couple strides and there’s no catching him,” Henrik Sedin said. “He’s got his head up to see what the goalie’s doing. He’s so patient.”
Hutchinson learned that the hard way.
VANCOUVER, BC – March 24: Chris Thorburn #22 of the Winnipeg Jets falls to the ice as he clears the puck away from Bo Horvat #53 of the Vancouver Canucks during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on March 24, 2015 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Derek Cain / ISN)
“He kind of froze me going down to protect five-hole,” said Hutchinson, adding that he had to respect Vrbata’s shot coming in on his forehand. “I tried to out wait him, hoping he didn’t realize how much time he had. But he did and took an extra step out with the puck and was able to get it over me.”
Hutchinson was making his first start since March 12 for the injury-riddled Jets, who despite missing three of their top-eight scorers in Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien and Mathieu Perreault were trying to win six in a row for the first time since November 2010. Ondrej Pavelec was in goal for the first five wins, posting a .967 save percentage. But after earning NHL First Star honors last week and making 33 saves in a 4-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday, Pavelec watched Hutchinson against the Canucks.
Maurice was happy with how Hutchinson played.
“Gives us a chance to win,” Maurice said.
VANCOUVER, BC – March 24: Radim Vrbata #17 of the Vancouver Canucks had 2 goals against the Winnipeg Jets during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on March 24, 2015 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Derek Cain / ISN)
Hutchinson made several good first-period saves after Tlusty gave the Jets an early lead, and Wheeler put the Jets up by two goals 5:07 into the second period. But Higgins started the Canucks’ comeback at 10:57 with a one-timer that hit a defender’s stick and snuck under Hutchinson’s arm.
“I got a good read on it but it hit our defenseman’s stick and changed direction on me,” Hutchinson said. “That’s a little frustrating when those bounces happen, especially in a 2-0 game to give them a little momentum.”
There was plenty of action early.
Lack threw out his right pad to stop Scheifele on a breakaway 40 seconds into the game after Canucks defenseman Christopher Tanev, who signed a five-year, $22.5-million contract extension earlier in the day, fell at his blue line to create the chance.
“I think the change was a little heavy in his pockets,” Lack joked of Tanev.
VANCOUVER, BC – March 24: Radim Vrbata #17 of the Vancouver Canucks is awarded player of the game against the Winnipeg Jets during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on March 24, 2015 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Derek Cain / ISN)
Tlusty opened the scoring less than two minutes later after another Canucks turnover. It was his first goal since coming to the Jets in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 25.
“I would trade it for two points, but it is a relief,” Tlusty said.
Wheeler, who was wearing a full face shield after needing root canals from an errant puck Monday, doubled the lead after a dominant stretch early in the second period.
“Full cage, probably not a lot of hard food, that takes a toll on the body,” Maurice said. “He played like he always does; he plays hard, finished checks and tries to make plays.”
Maurice said Little and Byfuglien could “possibly” return Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens, but did not have an update on forward Chris Thorburn, who left with five minutes remaining in the game, holding his hand over his right eye.
Maurice admitted the Jets missed their top scorers.
“We felt it on back-to-back with so many plays I thought were there that just didn’t quite get made,” he said.