Chris Higgins continued his solid play on the third line and tallied a goal, his fifth in the last four games. He’s playing extremely well the last 20 games or so. Since a great third line is often the difference in the playoffs, having to play responsibly defensively and chip in with the odd goal here and there, his good play (along with Sammy Pahlsson and the reinvigorated Jannik Hansen) is imperative for the team’s success. Leigh Ramsden lives in Vancouver and is an avid Canucks fan, having been a partial season ticket holder for over 10 years. He’s old enough to have witnessed all three Stanley Cup losses, as such, his prime goal is to remove those scars by seeing a Cup brought to Vancouver. Leigh is Fighting For Stanley’s (www.fightingforstanley.ca/vancouver) west coast correspondent, and will also blog after all Canuck games for The Nelson Daily.The Vancouver Canucks completed a late-season five game homestand by winning their seventh consecutive game with a 5-4 shootout win over the visiting Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night at Rogers Arena. The Canucks remain in first place in the Western Conference, extending their lead over second-place St. Louis to three points, with the Blues holding a game in hand. It was the Canucks’ 50th win of the season.Alex Burrows led the Canucks offensively with two goals, while linemate Henrik Sedin continued his recent torrid pace with another two assists. Dan Hamhuis also added a couple of helpers. Bobby Ryan led the Ducks with a three assist night, with rookie Devante Smith-Pelly also adding two assists.The Canucks spent most of the first two periods chasing the Ducks, as they fell behind 1-0, 2-1, and 4-2, before coming back to tie the game on each occasion. Max Lapierre scored with 1:27 left in the second period to bring the Canucks level for the final time. Vancouver starter Roberto Luongo was pulled after the Ducks scored their fourth goal at 7:03 of the second period, with backup Cory Schneider entering the game to hold the fort while the Canucks pressed Anaheim. The Canucks outshot the Ducks 24-9 after the goalie switch.Although they held a marked edge in shots in the third period and in overtime, the Canucks were not able to solve Anaheim netminder Jonas Hiller to earn the victory before the skills competition. The Canucks scored on all three opportunities in the shootout, with Burrows, Alex Edler, and Lapierre all scoring. Teemu Selanne, playing for perhaps the last time in Vancouver, scored the Ducks’ only shootout goal.Overall, this was a sloppy, poorly played affair. There were numerous mistakes in the defensive zone by both teams, which led to many of the goals scored. In the first two periods, it seemed that every mistake wound up in the back of the offending team’s net. The Canucks were especially poor in their own end. Marc-Andre Gragnani, who had been playing better defensively of late, was horrid, as he was on the ice for three of the four Anaheim goals. He was blatantly caught out of position on two of the goals and was just standing around, watching, on the third. GOALTENDING “CONTROVERSY”Most of the chatter as a result of this game surrounded the goaltending change by coach Alain Vigneault and the crowd’s resulting reaction, as they cheered the move and booed Luongo. Luongo was beaten five-hole on three of the goals, and went down early and left his post on a power play goal by Corey Perry. As noted above, the defense was very bad and these breakdowns left the Ducks with point-blank chances – Luongo didn’t whiff on any of these and realistically they were all difficult, in-close shots to stop. That said, he really didn’t look very good tonight, and the bottom line is that he needs to make a save on one or two of them. He ended up allowing his four goals in 27 minutes on only 15 shots. The numbers don’t lie – he just wasn’t very good tonight. Andrew Ebbett played again tonight on the fourth line with Manny Malhotra and Kassian. I don’t expect he’ll be in the lineup come playoff time either, but clearly these games right now are for Vigneault to get guys into games so they have some legs under them if they are called upon in the playoffs. Gragnani needs only one more game played in order for the Canucks to avoid him becoming a Group 6 (unrestricted) free agent. They have been playing him a lot more than he deserves to achieve this goal. Based on his play, I’d be surprised if we see much of him in the playoffs. Lapierre has played so well on the Sedin line that I’d like to see AV try him on the second line with Kesler and Booth when Daniel comes back. He may be able to provide them some spark. Conversely, the second line continues to struggle and was a combined minus-7 tonight with only one assist. After showing some promise a week ago, Mason Raymond has reverted back to his previous malaise. The forwards had a slightly more unbalanced workload tonight as a result of the 10 minutes of power play time. That said, it’s not really appropriate for the fans to boo him. He’s been on an absolute tear lately and has been standing on his head, and the fans should keep this in mind. When at his best, Luongo is close to unbeatable and is truly an elite NHL goaltender – and lately, for the most part, he’s been at his best.The fan base is punchy primarily as a result of his gaffes in last year’s Stanley Cup Final – and that is understandable. I’ve long contended that you can usually tell, very early, whether or not Luongo’s on his game. After the second goal tonight, I thought it looked like he was a bit off, but didn’t call for him to be pulled because of the fact this game was relatively meaningless. After the fourth goal went in, however, I fully applauded Vigneault’s decision.As it turned out, it was the right decision – the team started to play much better and they were able to tie it before the second intermission. In addition, Luongo was spared falling on his sword even more than he already had. The team generally has the utmost trust in Luongo, and I’m sure he’ll bounce back in his next start.Is there a goaltending controversy? I don’t think so, as I think Luongo has earned the right to get the nod when the playoffs start. That said, when the games really start to matter, I fully believe that Luongo should be kept on a very short leash. As I noted, when he’s good, he’s great – but when he’s bad, he’s really bad. The Canucks can’t afford to have “really bad” Luongo in net in the playoffs, especially when their #2 option is near the top of the league in save percentage and is generally regarded as the best non-starter NHL goaltender. Watch for AV to get a read on Luongo very quickly if he lets in a couple of goals early or in quick succession in the postseason. GAME OBSERVATIONS While the Canucks showed a lot of jam in climbing back into the game tonight, their power play had numerous chances to help out or put them ahead in the third and it was again unable to get the job done, going 0 for 5. The Canucks’ power play has absolutely deserted them. Since the Boston game in early January, the Canucks have played 31 games and are 12 for 82 on the power play, for 14.6%. Those numbers are horrible. Rookie winger Zack Kassian left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury and did not return. Vigneault said after the game that he was “in playoff mode” and only said that he was day to day. The Canucks may have to consider calling someone like Byron Bitz up from Chicago as the playoffs start. The PP is not getting a lot of production out of the first unit, especially lately as Daniel Sedin is out and Ryan Kesler is struggling. The second unit, which consisted tonight of Burrows, Raymond, and either Booth or Higgins looks lost as it doesn’t have a true playmaker. Both units seriously need to start just standing in front of the net and working the puck there, hoping for rebounds and greasy goals. The Ducks have a lot of talent for an 11th place team, and it’s somewhat unbelievable that they are in the predicament they are in. I know that Hiller wasn’t himself (or was out altogether) until after Christmas, but one would think a team with the names this one has would be able to put something together. It’s astounding that Ryan Getzlaf has only 10 goals and 45 assists – he’s a world class player. IF THIS WERE A PLAYOFF GAMEA lazy win, in a shootout, where the team overcame a weaker opponent and needed a shootout to secure the two points. Also, the goaltending was substandard. Unfortunately, if this game were a playoff game, it would have been a loss. Canucks are now 7-4 in the past 11 games since I began assessing them this way. PARTING SHOTSBroadcast Observation of the Night: TSN did the broadcast and I was surprised at how protective they were of Luongo. In my opinion, it’s very important for the media to present an unbiased view, especially on a national broadcaster.Therefore, I was disappointed when respected studio analyst Bob McKenzie defended Luongo in the second intermission and chided the fans for giving him a bad time. Even though the goals Luongo allowed to get past him were prime scoring chances, and it’s arguable as to how much he could have done about them, when you are beaten through the legs three times, you just aren’t at the top of your game. In the post-game scrum, Luongo even admitted as such. For McKenzie to go on about how the fans should cut him slack and not express their displeasure, all the while defending his play on the night, is just wrong.I would have had no problem with McKenzie defending him for his recent play, or what he’s brought to the franchise, or for his pedigree, etc. However, it’s incorrect to turn around and say the goals were completely not his fault. The influence of the broadcaster on the fan base is quite large, if the action on twitter is any indication.Looking ahead: The Canucks play Edmonton and Calgary to finish out the season. They control their own destiny as pertains to finishing first in the conference, as two wins will get them the first seeding and home ice advantage.
If necessary, the series will play the deciding Game five Friday in Fruitvale.Tied 1-1, Beaver Valley took over the game with a pair of second period goals by Tyler Hartman and team captain Sam Swanson.The Hawks then rode the amazing goaltending of Tallon Kramer for the win.Dylan Heppler gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead after one period. Mitch Foyle completed the scoring for the visitors in the third period.Matt Davies scored the only goal for the Nitros in the second period.Beaver Valley outshot Kimberley 29-26 in the game. Beaver Valley bounced back from its first loss of the playoffs to score an important 4-1 road victory over host Dynamiters Tuesday in Kootenay International Junior Hockey League Conference playoff action in Kimberley.The win gives the Nitehawks a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-five Kootenay Conference Final.Game four is Wednesday in Kimberley.