SAN JOSE -- The Vancouver Canucks' decision to sign Radim Vrbata as a free agent in July keeps paying dividends.
Vrbata scored two goals, including the game-winner, in a crucial 3-2 victory against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on Saturday.
Vrbata scored at 5:21 of the third period during a 4-on-3 power play, breaking a 2-2 tie.
Henrik Sedin won a faceoff against Joe Pavelski in the left circle, and Daniel Sedin sent a cross-ice pass to Vrbata while diving to the ice. Vrbata lifted a shot over goalie Antti Niemi's left shoulder for his team-high 25th goal of the season.
"He's a goal-scorer," Henrik Sedin said. "That's what he does. It's impressive."
Bo Horvat had the other goal for the Canucks (37-24-4), and Eddie Lack made 38 saves,. With 78 points, the Canucks are second in the Pacific Division, two points ahead of the Calgary Flames .
"It was a four-point game," Vrbata said. "If we would have lost they would get really close to us. This way we open a cushion again and overall it was a big effort, especially in this building."
Vancouver ended a two-game losing streak and won the season series against San Jose 3-2-0, with the road team winning each of the five games.
The Sharks beat Vancouver 6-2 on Tuesday at Rogers Arena after jumping to a quick 3-0 lead. This time San Jose built a 2-0 lead, but Vancouver scored three unanswered goals.
"It's our biggest game to date," a frustrated Pavelski said. "We got the start we wanted and we get the lead and we gave it away. We can be better than that. We had chances, probably enough to win."
Early in the third period, Sharks forward Tommy Wingels jammed the puck past Lack at the end of a long battle in front of the net. But the officials said the whistle had blown, even though the puck was still loose, negating the goal.
Lack made a brilliant left pad save on Karlsson's shot from close range with 13:30 left in the third. Thirty seconds later, Sharks forward Tomas Hertl hit the left post. The puck bounced off Lack and toward the goal line, but Vrbata swept it away before it completely crossed the line.
"He made a lot of good saves," Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said of Lack. "They had some real good looks. In the third they had two or three that were real close. Maybe we got a couple breaks on those, but our guys played hard. This is a tough building for us to play in, and for us to get a win here shows a lot of character."
The Sharks pulled Niemi with 1:50 left to play but couldn't get the puck past Lack.
Karlsson gave San Jose a 1-0 lead at 7:58 of the first period with his 11th goal of season and second in back-to-back games against Vancouver. Lack tried to clear the puck, but Joe Thornton intercepted his pass and got the puck to Marc-Edouard Vlasic at the point. Lack stopped Vlasic's wrist shot, but the rebound went to Karlsson, who beat Lack from the left circle with a shot to the upper right corner.
Thornton made it 2-0 at 11:51 with a power-play goal, burying a rebound from the right circle into a wide-open net. Pavelski sent a wrist shot from the left circle that caromed off Lack, then hit Sharks defenseman Brent Burns and came to a wide-open Thornton on the other side. The goal was Thornton's 13th of the season.
Vancouver cut the deficit in half with 39 seconds left in the first period on Vrbata's first of the night. After a turnover by Patrick Marleau, Vrbata got behind Burns and Scott Hannan, took a pass from Nick Bonino and banked the puck from the left post off of Niemi and over the goal line.
"Even though we were down 2-0 early again I thought we had a better start or better first period than we had the last couple of games," said Vrbata, who had 20 goals and 51 points for the Arizona Coyotes last season. "We never gave up. We were able to score that late one in the first. That kind of got us back into it. Bo scored a big one to get it tied. The third was just about who would get that third goal. Luckily it was us."
When the second period began, Marleau dropped from the second to the third line, trading places with Wingels. Marleau had a great chance to extend San Jose's lead midway through the period after taking a cross-ice pass from Hannan, just to the right of the crease. But he sent an apparent tap-in through the crease and wide left.
"I went to stop it and it hit my stick and took off the other way," Marleau said. "I'd like to have that one back."
The Canucks pulled even at 16:24 on Horvat's unassisted goal. The puck hopped over Burns' stick along the boards at the blue line and Horvat made him pay. The rookie center darted in, got the puck and headed the other way, staying a step ahead of Burns. He flipped the puck over Niemi's right shoulder for his 10th goal of the season.
Horvat said he wasn't positive he could get the puck over Niemi because it was rolling for so long before he could control it.
"I wasn't 100 percent sure," Horvat said. "When I was skating for it, I saw it rolling and rolling, and I just wanted to kind of protect it, see what happened and hopefully settle the puck down. I don't think if it was rolling it would have got up that quick."
The Sharks' stretch run doesn't get any easier. They have home games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks before going on a seven-game road trip. Blowing a 2-0 lead and losing in regulation to Vancouver was damaging to their playoff hopes, Wingels said.
"It's painful because it's a team we're chasing and these opportunities, there aren't too many more," Wingels said. "We're pretty disappointed not getting the two points."
The Canucks will take some momentum into a tough five-game homestand that begins Monday against the Western Conference-leading Anaheim Ducks.
"I just know that playoffs are on the line, and it doesn't matter who we play," Desjardins said. "We have to play like this every night, and if we do we'll get some wins and if we don't we won't."
Canucks forward Chris Higgins missed the game with a lower body injury, and Brandon McMillan took his place in the lineup. Vancouver defenseman Yannick Weber left the game late in the third period with an undisclosed injury. Desjardins said Weber will be further evaluated on Sunday.