Roberto Luongo got his first start in seven games after Cory Schneider was relieved of his duties in a 6-5 loss to the Nashville Predators Thursday night. With the aid of two power play goals from the best power play unit in the league and a strong performance from the all-U.S.-born line of David Booth, Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins, the Canucks helped their No. 1 goaltender to a solid 5-1 victory Sunday evening against the Calgary Flames.
Luongo, undoubtedly, looked very rusty, especially on Calgary's first and only goal of the game -- although his entire defense was rather shaky. Alex Tanguay, the Flames' leading scorer, was able to weave in and out of Vancouver's defenders to position himself for a shot in the high slot. Although he missed his initial shot, after a few bounces Tanguay was able to get the puck behind between Luongo and the right post for the early lead.
Once the Flames had the lead, they started to control the flow of the game, forcing the Canucks to have to play dump-and-chase hockey. Calgary's major mistake, though, came just about three and a half minutes into the second period, where Jarome Iginla was called for goalie interference. It was here where Vancouver's scoring began, when Kevin Bieksa ripped a knuckling slap shot that wizzed past Calgary backup goaltender Henrik Karlsson.
The goal for the lead came from Chris Higgins (1 goal, 2 assists) as he exited the penalty box. The Canucks had a solid cycle going, leaving the Flames defense scrambling in the zone and Higgins uncovered by anyone in white for the easy backhand.
The rest of Vancouver's goals came almost as easily, as David Booth (1 goal, 2 assists) and Jannik Hansen both scored goals within the first two minutes of the final period. The final goal to cap to victory for the 'Nucks came from Daniel Sedin courtesy of Ryan Kesler (two assists) and Henrik Sedin on the top-ranked power play, giving Vancouver a 5-1 lead.
While the Flames looked promising in an effort to weed Luongo out early on, the Canucks slowly came to dominate, outshooting Calgary 26-9 through periods two and three.
While the damage had already been done, it also didn't help that Karlsson was taken out by his own teammate not too long after the fifth and final Vancouver goal. Miikka Kiprusoff came in relief of Karlsson after the incident, but he, too, was run into, this time by Booth, which, although seemed like a legitimate hockey play, resulted in Calgary's players taking care of business. The physicality escalated and peaked at the 11-minute mark where seven penalties were assessed, including fighting majors and game misconducts for Maxim Lapierre and Matt Stajan. After the scuffle, the game settled down until the final horn, sealing a 5-1 victory (the same score in the last matchup between the two).
Both the Flames and Canucks struggled to find a winning flow earlier in the year, but as of late, both the Canucks and the Flames have started to play better hockey. The Canucks were riding a four-game winning streak before the loss to Nashville. Meanwhile, Calgary won the last three out of four games, the last coming just the day before in a back-to-back, winning 5-3 in the Battle of Albert against the Oilers.
Albeit, Luongo only saw 22 shots, and only 9 after the first period where he seemed most suspect. Yet, even though he sat out as a healthy scratch for the longest amount of games in his career, he did what was necessary to keep the pucks out, and received run-support from his best players up front. Also on the upside for the Canucks, the U.S.-born line, known as the "American Express" line, had a good game, knowing that they, too, were struggling mightily earlier in the season, as all three forwards earned the three stars selection honors.