The American Express line is back together again and flying for the Vancouver Canucks.
Ryan Kesler, Chris Higgins and David Booth played a key role as the Canucks beat Winnipeg 3-2 on Thursday night to interrupt a strong playoff drive by the Jets.
Higgins, from Smithtown, N.Y., moved up to rejoin his linemates from the Detroit area after playing on the third line following his recovery from a bacterial infection.
"[Higgins is] one of the most underrated players in the game," said Kesler, who scored the opening short-handed goal. "He plays with a lot of energy. He has a great skill set. He's easy to play with. I love playing with the guy."
Higgins earned an assist, and all three players were on the ice when Alex Edler erased a 2-1 Winnipeg lead. Edler drifted a shot toward the net, and the puck went in off Jets forward Blake Wheeler.
The line made a strong case to stay together after firing 16 of Vancouver's 45 shots on goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
'You can't play a B-game against Vancouver, they are too good, too skilled' —Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel
"I thought we had a lot of opportunities," Higgins said. "We played with a lot of speed and played pretty direct. [Kesler] could have had a couple more goals, I could have had a couple more goals. Boothie was driving the net pretty hard. All the things that we need to keep doing."
Pahlsson plays hero
The Canucks won when Sammy Pahlsson, obtained at the trade deadline from Columbus, took a drop pass and drilled a shot past screening defender Dustin Byfuglien.
Kyle Wellwood and Wheeler scored for Winnipeg.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault praised Pahlsson, but also noticed Kesler, who scored his second goal in 13 games.
"He was skating," Vigneault said. "Chris and David did a good job getting in the open.
"Chris is such a hard worker, he retrieves pucks, whether it be in our end or their end and seemed to complement each other very well."
Kesler hit two posts and a crossbar in the opening 40 minutes.
"The puck was magnetized for me," he said.
Pahlsson's goal over Pavelec's glove and under the crossbar was just his third of a frustrating season.
"It hasn't been going in for me at all this season, and of course it's nice to get the first one for the new team," said Pahlsson, who is cast in a defensive role. "There's always pressure, pressure to score goals and do other things, but of course I want to score."
Canucks fight for West lead; Jets 8th in East
The Canucks (42-18-8) rallied for the win after losing twice in a row at home — only the second time this season the Northwest Division leaders have lost two straight in regulation.
Vancouver is one point behind the Western Conference-leading St. Louis Blues in its bid to repeat as Presidents' Trophy winners.
The Jets (32-28-8) lost in regulation for the second time in 10 games as they fight for a playoff spot in the East.
Wheeler gave Winnipeg its first lead at 3:34 of the third period when he went around a falling Edler and caught goalie Cory Schneider going the wrong way. His snap shot to the far post was his fifth goal in five games, but Edler gave Vancouver a 2-2 tie at 6:28.
Kesler grabbed an outlet pass that appeared to hit an official in the Winnipeg zone, and his shot under the stick of defenceman Tobias Enstrom eluded Pavelec at 1:44 of the second. It was Kesler's 20th goal.
Mark Stuart contributed to Wellwood's tying goal at 15:22 of the second when he took a hit to prevent a clearing attempt by the Canucks. Evander Kane shot the loose puck toward the net, it hit a skate and bounced to the former Canuck, who slid it into an open corner past Schneider.
There were "Go Jets Go" chants from fans, many in Jets jerseys with the new logo. It was the first visit to Vancouver by a Winnipeg team since the old Jets lost 5-4 to Vancouver 16 years ago.
The Canucks dominated early in a freewheeling, scoreless opening period in which there wasn't a whistle until 4:23.
Kesler paced Vancouver's attack that produced a 20-11 edge in shots on goal, but his best attempt hit the crossbar and post behind Pavelec.
Both goalies busy
Schneider, who honed his puck-stopping skills for three seasons in Winnipeg with the AHL Manitoba Moose, was sharp late in the period.
He challenged Jim Slater's shot from the deep slot and went down to stop Kane after the former Vancouver junior star stickhandled past Edler.
Edler made up for it when he scored to tie the game. Pahlsson clinched it on a shot that Pavelec couldn't see.
"It was over my shoulder," Pavelec said. "Again, a turnover in the middle of the ice, and then they came to our zone, cut to the middle and it was too late to do something."
Jets coach Claude Noel said his club didn't deserve to win.
"We were lacking our good, solid play we've had in the past," said Noel, whose club held Vancouver scoreless in the first period despite being outshot 20-11. "Our will was there, I didn't think our energy was good in the first, and other than that we didn't play to the level we were playing at before and that was the difference.
"You can't play a B-game against Vancouver, they are too good, too skilled."