Canucks sink Oilers as Sundin returns

Mats Sundin made his much-anticipated return to the NHL as the Vancouver Canucks beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-2 at Rexall Place on Wednesday night.

Although he didn't register a point, Mats Sundin made a triumphant return to the NHL with a debut nine months in the making.

That said, Sundin was upstaged by Steve Bernier in his first game with the Vancouver Canucks, 4-2 winners over the Edmonton Oilers before a capacity crowd of 16,839 at Rexall Place on Wednesday night.

Bernier scored twice in 12 seconds in the second period and assisted on Vancouver's opening goal.

But all eyes were on the newest Canuck.  

Sundin hadn't played in the NHL since last spring, and spent the past nine months mulling over whether to retire or to return for an 18th season.

The nine-time all-star forward finally signed Dec. 18 with Vancouver and, with only two full practices under his belt, jumped over the boards a little over a minute into the first period.

The Edmonton crowd's reaction? A smattering of boos. Not that Sundin wondered why.

"No, and I'm not going to worry about it either," he said.

Sundin skated 24 shifts, flanked primarily by wingers Mason Raymond and Kyle Wellwood, and finished with 15:02 in ice time.

"Physically, I felt better than I was hoping," Sundin said. "It's good to get that first game out of the way."

Sundin has 1,321 points in 1,306 NHL games since he was drafted No. 1 overall by the Quebec Nordiques in 1989, and he remains the Toronto Maple Leafs' leader in goals (420) and points (987).

All he managed Wednesday was to win nine of 18 faceoffs.

"It felt exactly like where you are at the start of a season, where you're trying to get it back," Sundin said. "But the only way to get it back is to play."

Alex Burrows had one goal and two assists and Pavol Demitra sealed the victory with an empty-net goal as the Canucks (22-15-5) halted a two-game losing skid.  

Ryan Kesler contributed two assists in support of Jason LaBarbera, who posted 23 saves in his fourth straight start since being acquired Dec. 31 from the Los Angeles Kings for a seventh-round draft pick.

The Canucks picked him up because both incumbent goaltenders, Roberto Luongo and Curtis Sanford, remain sidelined with groin injuries.

"What's important is the team played well tonight," Bernier said. "We didn't give up a lot of scoring chances and we finished with the two points."

'I put myself in a vulnerable position'

Robert Nilsson and Erik Cole scored for the Oilers (19-16-3), and Dwayne Roloson faced 21 shots in defeat.

"We didn't generate enough early, especially when we had the power plays in the first [period]," Oilers captain Ethan Moreau said. "Defensively we played all right, but we just didn't have our skill game going."

Tom Gilbert narrowly escaped injury when he was checked into the boards from behind by Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell early in the first period.

"I put myself in a vulnerable position and that, obviously, isn't what you want to do," Gilbert said.

Mitchell later scored the opening goal 8:36 in the contest, but it was disallowed because teammate Alexandre Bolduc bulled over Roloson in the crease and was penalized for interference. 

Burrows staked the Canucks to a 1-0 lead as he buried Bernier's pass out from behind the net for his ninth goal of the campaign 14:07 into the second period.

Nilsson tied it in 90 seconds on the power play, whacking the puck past a sprawled LaBarbera at the left post for his sixth. 

But before the period was out, Bernier tallied twice in 12 seconds to make it 3-1.

"It's a great boost for your confidence," he said of the feat.

First, Bernier finished off a pretty three-way play involving Burrows and Kesler with a blistering slapshot at the 17:20 mark. 

Then, Bernier converted a slick pass to the far side of the crease from Burrows in the corner for his second goal of the game and ninth overall.

"It was tough to have a couple little breakdowns get you bang, bang like that," Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray said.

Moments later, Sundin scuffled briefly with Oilers defenceman Steve Staios, smiling as they exchanged nothing more than verbal pleasantries.

Edmonton trimmed the deficit to 3-2 less than nine minutes into the third period, when Cole tipped Staios's point shot past a heavily screened LaBarbera for his eighth.

But Demitra preserved the win with his 12th, an empty-netter with 36 seconds remaining.

With files from the Canadian Press