By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER – Alex Biega never doubted he had the ability to play in the NHL.
All he needed was a chance â€” one that he took advantage of Monday night.
The 26-year-old defenceman scored the winner in his NHL debut as the Vancouver Canucks survived a chaotic final 30 seconds to defeat the Minnesota Wild 3-2.
A veteran of more than 300 games in the American Hockey League, Biega was recalled from the Utica Comets over the weekend, but didn’t arrive in Vancouver until 6 a.m. Monday. He was then told about three hours before the opening faceoff he would be playing after Christopher Tanev was made a late scratch.
“I just had the belief that if I got the opportunity I would seize it,” said Biega, still in his jersey and clutching the game-winning puck. “I had a great support system with my parents and my wife, people like that pushing you to keep playing and keep pursuing your dream. It’s indescribable the emotions that are running through my head.”
Biega â€” part of a patchwork Canucks defence that was also without Alexander Edler and Kevin Bieksa â€” scored to make it 3-1 with 8:06 left in the third before Minnesota’s Nino Niederreiter buried his second of the game and 18th of the season at 13:35 to get the Wild back within one.
The visitors stormed the Vancouver crease in the dying moments, but couldn’t get anything else past Canucks goalie Eddie Lack, who finished with 20 saves as his team improved to 32-12-3.
“He’s waited a long time for this,” Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins said of Biega. “He has a passion for it. It’s a great story when you have that passion and you get the winner.”
Henrik Sedin, with a goal and an assist, and Bo Horvat also scored for Vancouver as the Canucks moved a point up on the San Jose Sharks for second in the Pacific Division.
“We played hard,” said Desjardins. “We were missing some guys, but the guys that stepped in were excited about playing I thought they brought us some energy.”
Devan Dubnyk, now 10-2-1 since being acquired from the Arizona Coyotes, finished with 26 saves for Minnesota (28-21-7).
“I knew it was going to be a real tight-checking game,” said Wild head coach Mike Yeo. “I don’t think we were strong enough on the puck in the offensive zone. In a lot of ways that’s the place we needed to win that game tonight and we didn’t do enough in there.”
Former Canucks forward Jordan Schroeder picked up two assists for Minnesota, which entered play 8-0-1 over its last nine and lost in regulation for the first time since Jan. 19 as the club continues to push for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“There’s a lot of hockey left,” said Yeo. “I said this before, if we won this game it doesn’t mean we’re in the playoffs, if we lose it doesn’t mean we are out of it.”
Vancouver broke a 1-1 tie at 1:33 of the third on the seventh goal of Horvat’s impressive rookie season. Dubnyk stopped Jannik Hansen’s shot from the high slot, but the puck spilled into the crease for Horvat, who tapped it home with a diving effort before Biega made it 3-1.
Niederreiter opened the scoring midway through the first for Minnesota â€” which already had two wins over Vancouver this month â€” but Henrik Sedin tied things 42 seconds into the second with his 10th of the season on a 3-on-1 rush to set the stage for the third-period drama.
“It’s a mental grind to stick with it,” Biega said of his career in the minors. “I was convinced if I got the opportunity I’d seize it.”
Note: Vancouver starts a five-game road trip on Thursday against the New York Rangers.
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