Canucks solidify hold atop Northwest as Luongo stymies Sharks' comeback

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Vancouver Canucks didn't have any problems getting focused and motivated for this opponent.

The Canucks bounced back from a lopsided loss to the lowly New York Islanders two nights earlier with a 3-2 victory over San Jose on Thursday, beating the Sharks for just the second time in 10 games over three seasons.

"We know it's been a while and we know we've struggled in the past against this team," said Kesler, who had a goal and an assist. "It's not hard to get up for games like these. That's a pretty good hockey club and a good test for us, and we answered the bell."

So did Luongo, who was pulled Tuesday against the Islanders after giving up four goals on 12 shots. The Canucks captain stopped 32 Sharks shots and did his best work while being outshot 28-13 over the final two periods.

"We wanted to bounce back. We were disappointed with ourselves," Luongo said after improving to 6-1-0 in his next start after being pulled. "They are on top of the conference and a very good team and we came out, had a solid first period and really set the tempo."

Kesler and Alexander Edler each had a power play goal and an assist in the first period, and Ryan Johnson scored his first goal of the season late in the second as Vancouver moved five points up on Colorado in the Northwest Division and within five of San Jose atop the Western Conference.

Johnson's first goal in 83 games became the game winner when Joe Pavelski scored with 3:08 left, giving the Canucks three wins in four home games since coming back from a record 14-straight road games while Vancouver hosted the Olympics.

"I've wanted to bury one," said Johnson, who last scored Jan. 28, 2009. "But I'd rather have a big one. I don't care to score the sixth goal in a 5-1 game. To me, to score in a game like that against a very good hockey team is nice."

Ryane Clowe also scored for the Sharks, who have lost four straight (0-3-1) and lead Phoenix by just three points atop the Pacific Division. San Jose remains the best road team in the west, but has dropped the first three of a six-game trip that continues in Calgary on Friday night.

"It's a bump in the road, but I think its good for us to face adversity," said Evgeni Nabokov, who made 23 saves after being pulled early from San Jose's 8-2 loss in Dallas on Tuesday. "I think it will glue us together even more."

Luongo made his best saves midway through a third period, robbing Devin Setoguchi and Pavelski on great chances before Pavelski knocked a high shot out of the air and banged in the bouncing puck to make it 3-2. But Luongo stopped Setoguchi again with 35 seconds left to preserve Vancouver improved to 7-2-1 since the Olympics.

"The best thing about Louie is he can go through cold spells where he doesn't face a lot of shots and not just come and make a save but the big save, where he's down and out and manages to make a saves like that," Johnson said.

It was Nabokov's first loss to Vancouver in nine starts, but he didn't have much of a chance on either of the first two goals, which both came on the power play.

Edler's point shot appeared to change direction through Kyle Wellwood's leaping screen 8:31 in, and Kesler's low shot 4 minutes later came through another screen by Wellwood.

"The first period, three penalties in the offensive zone, it took us a while to get our feet underneath us," said coach Todd McLellan, who was otherwise pleased. "Sometimes you've got to make strides and it doesn't pay off and I thought we did that tonight."

Game notes
Canucks RW Mikael Samuelsson, who has 30 goals, missed his first game of what is expected to be at least a two week absence after sustaining an upper-body injury Tuesday. He was replaced in the lineup by rookie callup Michael Grabner, but Alex Burrows took his spot on the top line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. ... Vancouver hasn't won in San Jose since April 7, 2007, but plays there two more times over the final three weeks of the season.