Scoring — especially twice on great individual efforts against the team he grew up cheering for — was, in Kesler’s words, “awesome.”
Kesler scored twice on individual rushes in the third period and Roberto Luongo stopped 28 shots, lifting the Vancouver Canucks to a 4-1 win over the injury-ravaged Red Wings Saturday night.
“I’m playing with some confidence but I know first and foremost my job is to shut down the other team’s top offensive guys and being able to score a couple is just a bonus,” Kesler said. “Those guys are hard to shut down, they’re really shifty, great one-on-one guys and to have them on the minus side of things was awesome.”
Defensemen Alexander Edler and Sami Salo also scored as the Canucks won their fourth straight for the first time this season, moving into a tie with San Jose, Calgary and Nashville for fifth place in the Western Conference, four points ahead of ninth-place Colorado.
Kesler stripped defenseman Brett Lebda of the puck at the Canucks blueline and raced the other way, tucking the puck between Jimmy Howard’s legs on the breakaway 3:31 into the third period. He rounded out the scoring with three minutes left, keeping the puck on a 2-on-1 break and beating Howard between the legs again.
“It worked the first time might as well try it the second time,” said Kesler, who grew up in Livonia, a western suburb of Detroit. “Playing against a team I watched growing up, there was a little extra motivation.”
Pavel Datsyuk scored the lone goal for the Red Wings, who are 1-7-1 their last nine games and have had their lead atop the Western Conference trimmed to six points over the Dallas Stars.
“We’ve gone through the same thing, we know what they re feeling right now and it’s a dog-eat-dog world I guess,” Kesler said. “So we tried to jump on them right away and put them on their heels as much as possible.”
With Dominik Hasek still nursing a hip injury and Chris Osgood playing the night before, Howard made just his eighth career NHL appearance in goal for the Red Wings. He made a couple of great stops early and finished with 31 saves.
Already missing top defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom (knee), Brian Rafalski (groin) and Niklas Kronwall (shoulder), the Red Wings lost veteran defender Chris Chelios early in Friday’s 1-0 loss in Calgary after he was hit in the leg by a shot.
“Everything was fine until we turned the puck over to make it 3-1,” coach Mike Babcock said. “And then, just by playing last night and being a little depleted anyway, we didn’t have any energy to push. So that was the nail in the coffin.”
Garrett Stafford was called up from the AHL and played his first career NHL game one night after 23-year-old Jonathan Ericsson made his NHL debut in Calgary.
Edler opened the scoring with 5:34 left in the first period on a hard, low one-timer from the left point that seemed to catch Howard off guard after the Canucks won a faceoff in the Detroit zone and quickly moved it across the ice.
Datsyuk tied it on a power play deflection two and a half minutes later, but the Wings failed on a minute-long 5-on-3 six minutes into the second period and Salo put Vancouver ahead again on a Canucks power play shortly after, pinching down into the slot and wiring a one-timer.
GAME NOTES: Both teams gathered at center ice after Alexandre Burrows and Aaron Downey exchanged shoves during warm-ups half an hour before the game started. … The 46-year-old Chelios is listed as day-to-day. … Hasek, 43, practiced Saturday morning and hopes to return sometime next week. … Canucks LW Markus Naslund played through a nagging groin injury that kept him out of practice Friday. … Vancouver D Lukas Krajicek, out since Jan. 23, had surgery on his injured shoulder and is out for the season. … The Red Wings wrap up a five-game road trip in Edmonton on Tuesday.
1 - 0 VAN
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 VAN
3 - 1 VAN
4 - 1 VAN
Delaying Game-Puck over glass