UNIONDALE, N.Y. — It was a sloppy, thrilling, cheeky, and frenetic game.
And if the Canucks’ 5-4 overtime win on Long Island had a name, it’d have to be Kevin Bieksa.
There was the “gunslinger,” as John Tortorella referred to No. 3, driving through Frans Nielsen in overtime in the Islanders crease. He charged over him and into Evgeni Nabokov like he was a blitzing outside linebacker, and the goalie a quarterback.
That wasn’t a crease as much as a collapsed pocket. Brad Richardson shovelled the puck at the net and it somehow went in off a falling Islander for the game winner.
“I just think he’s a warrior,” Tortorella would later say, describing Bieksa.
Richardson got credit for the goal in the end, but it hardly matters. What does matter, is this is the best Bieksa has played in a couple of years, his game uncorked by Tortorella’s “go get ’em” chalk talk.
“What do you think?” Bieksa said when asked if he’s thriving under Tortorella’s aggressiveness. “I’m all over the place. I love it.
“There’s a lot of creativity that’s encouraged and a lot of jumping into the play. For me, and for all of our D who can skate, we love the opportunity to jump in.”
The thing Tortorella appears to understand is that when Bieksa is free-swinging and daring, he brings a level of nerve that isn’t matched by many Canucks.
“I think we need more of that strut within our team,” Tortorella said. “At times, he gets sloppy. But in these types of situations, he’s the type of guy you want on the ice.
“I think we can correct some of the things and teach him how we want to play a little more defensively in certain situations.
“But he’s a gunslinger. I like that. We need more gunslingers. We can tame him to play under some structure.
“He has it. And I think that’s very important for this type of club because there’s not enough within it.”
With four hits, four shots and a hand in three goals, Bieksa was fun to watch Tuesday. So was a game that looked a lot like foosball does when you allow spinning rods.
The pucks were everywhere, and so were the Islanders, whose speed and pressure were underestimated by the Canucks.
The Canucks were overwhelmed early, trailing 2-0 after just 4:41. But the veteran group responded to New York’s quickness with some guile.
A saucy Henrik Sedin banked in a goal off of Nabokov’s backside to tie the game 3-3 12:39 into the second.
Bieksa then set up the goal that put the Canucks up 4-3 seven minutes later.
In one of his more fascinating sequences of the season, Bieksa won a puck battle in the neutral zone with Brock Nelson, then chose to shoot instead of passing cross-ice to a streaking Chris Higgins.
It looked nuts and it had to have initiated a few face palms from Canucks fans. But what Bieksa did was set up a 55-foot bank pass with a well-placed wrister that directed off Nabokov’s right pad, and to Higgins for a tap-in.
“I heard Chris first, I heard him yell across once I went over the blueline,” Bieksa said. “I have a little greasy wrister off his pad. Sometimes those work, and sometimes those steer in the corner and you look like an idiot.”