By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER – Radim Vrbata was signed to provide the Vancouver Canucks with some much-needed offence, and that’s just what he’s done as the team continues its push for a return to the playoffs.
The veteran sniper scored twice, including a beautiful effort on the winner, and also added an assist Tuesday as Vancouver downed the Winnipeg Jets 5-2.
The Canucks had already erased a 2-0 deficit when Vrbata grabbed a loose puck off the sideboards and outwaited Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson before burying his 28th of the season with a minute left in the second period.
“He’s just kind of an assassin,” said Chris Higgins, who had a goal and an assist. “It’s pretty incredible watching him around the net â€” so much poise and patience. He’s very aware of how much time he has.
“It’s pretty impressive to watch.”
Vrbata added another into an empty net late for his 29th and now has three goals and four assists in his last three games, all victories, as the Canucks moved four points up on the Calgary Flames for second place in the Pacific Division.
“I think you go by your instincts,” Vrbata said of the winner. “If you overthink it then you might get in trouble.”
Henrik Sedin chipped in with an empty-net goal of his own and two assists for Vancouver (43-26-4), while Yannick Weber also scored. Daniel Sedin added two assists.
Vancouver needed a scoring boost after finishing tied for the second-worst offence while missing the playoffs last season, and Vrbata has been everything the club could have hoped for after signing for two years back in July.
“A lot of nights you don’t really see him out there,” said Henrik Sedin. “But once he gets the puck on his stick you see the first couple strides and there’s no chance of catching him.”
Eddie Lack finished with 26 saves for the Canucks, who had a sleepy start before coming to life after weekend road wins over the Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes.
“I didn’t think we played fast as a team in the first half of the game,” said Henrik Sedin. “Coming back from a road trip, it’s always tough, but you to try and be in the game and we were down 2-0, which is not good. You can work your way through the first period a little bit and then you can get going, but being down 2-0, it’s usually tough to come back.”
But come back they did against a team that was playing its second game in as many nights and occupies the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference â€” three points back of the Minnesota Wild and two ahead of the Kings, who have a game in hand.
“We gave what we had,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice, who saw a five-game winning streak snapped. “We were probably better than I thought we were going to be able to through the first 30 minutes of that hockey game and didn’t win. That fight for our guys has always been there.”
Jiri Tlusty and Blake Wheeler had the goals for Winnipeg (38-24-12), which got 25 stops from Hutchinson.
Tlusty scored his 14th of the season, and first with the Jets after coming over in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes, in the opening period before Wheeler banged home his 23rd at 5:07 of the second.
“At 2-0 I was feeling a little down, but we stuck with it, kept battling,” said Lack. “There’s something about this team, we just keep going and keep going and we find ways of coming back.”
Higgins scored his 10th on a shot that went off a Winnipeg stick at 10:57 to get his team on the board, Weber tied it up at 16:29 on the power play with his eighth, and Vrbata gave his team a lead it wouldn’t surrender.
Henrik Sedin, with his 17th, and Vrbata then rounded out the scoring into empty nets after Lack made a couple of big saves to keep Vancouver ahead 3-2.
“Everybody knows how important this game was,” said Vrbata. “Even though we were down 2-0 we didn’t give up and were able to turn it around … big two points for us.”
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