Markus Naslund has gone from the no-show to the go-to guy in the talent-depleted Vancouver Canucks' lineup.
Missing three top-line players, including holdout Pavel Bure, the Canucks snapped a six-game winless streak behind Naslund's three-goal game with a 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Friday night.
Naslund helped the Canucks snap an 0-5-1 streak with his first hat trick since April 13, 1996 and the third of his career.
"I enjoy it. I like being one of the guys that needs to score goals and having the pressure to score goals," said Naslund. "As long as I'm getting the ice time, I think I can get the goals."
Naslund, who now leads the Canucks with 12 goals this season, has done an about-face after struggling to earn ice-time last season in Vancouver. This year, injuries to left-wing Todd Bertuzzi (fractured tibia) and Alexander Mogilny (knee sprain) have forced coach Mike Keenan to use Naslund on a regular basis.
"Markus has taken on a lot of responsibility from a position of little confidence at the beginning of the season. He has progressively gotten better with more ice time and more responsibility," said Keenan. "He has great skill and he showed it tonight. I think this type of game is going to be real beneficial for his confidence level."
Naslund broke a 1-1 tie with 2:29 left in the second when he was set up in the right circle by Mark Messier and put a shot up high that beat Dallas goalie Ed Belfour. Naslund then sealed the victory midway through the third, capitalizing on an errant pass by Dallas' Mike Modano. Modano broke his stick attempting to clear the puck from deep in his own end and the pass fluttered to the slot where Naslund snapped it home.
Considering that the Canucks have squandered third-period leads in two of their last three games, Naslund said his third goal was the most important one as it gave the team a two-goal edge.
"I thought it was really important to almost ice the game. They could have come back, but that was big for us because they had a few chances," said Naslund.
Messier had two assists and Donald Brashear rounded out the scoring with two minutes left as the Canucks won for the first time since Nov. 19. The win was also Vancouver's first in nine straight meetings against opponents with plus-.500 records this season.
The win was the 501st of Keenan's 14-year NHL career, moving him alone into fifth place - one ahead of Montreal Canadiens coaching great Toe Blake - on the all-time list. As well, Keenan was coaching his 975th game, tying him for sixth with Florida Panthers general manager Bryan Murray.
Canucks goalie Garth Snow, making his 13th straight start, had a big night in a game the Canucks were outshot 37-18.
His biggest save came seven minutes into the third period when he foiled Lehtinen on another wraparound attempt and then lay across the crease to stop Modano from stuffing the puck in. With 5:50 remaining, Hatcher missed a wde-open net during a scramble in front of the Canucks' goal.
The Stars, who had a season-high five-game road unbeaten come to an end (4-0-1), lamented their missed scoring opportunities.
"It's frustrating. We had enough opportunities to score. And we have enough talent in here to score, but we missed nets and their goalie made big saves," said defenseman Darryl Sydor.
Added coach Ken Hitchock, who was missing Brett Hull (groin pull) from his lineup: "We didn't capitalize on our opportunities and, on the road that comes back to haunt you. ... I just think we didn't play with enough hunger from the red line in."
The Stars' power play came up empty on five opportunities, including a 68-second two-man advantage in the second period.
Jere Lehtinen scored for the Stars, who briefly tied the game 13:50 into the second period.
Belfour, coming off consecutive shutouts, allowed his first goal in three games - a span of 1:52.24 - when Naslund opened the scoring with a power-play goal with 7:36 left in the second period.
During the game, the Canucks announced they had agreed to contract terms with prospect defensemen Brad Ference and Larry Shapley. Terms of the deals were not disclosed. Ference, a member of the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs, was recently named to the Canadian National Junior Team for the second straight year. Shapley is currently playing with Vancouver's AHL Syracuse farm club.
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