VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - Vancouver defenseman Lee Sweatt was too happy just to play his first game in the NHL to even think about winning it for the Canucks.
Sweatt, the 25-year-old former Colorado College player who spent his first four professional seasons in Europe, scored the winning goal with 7:29 left in his NHL debut, and Vancouver rallied from an early third period deficit to beat the Nashville Predators 2-1 on Wednesday night.
``I was just happy to get on the ice and it was kind of just the icing on the cake with the cherry on top.' Sweatt said. ``I never would have thought I would score in my first game. It's definitely a dream come true.'
Nashville captain Shea Weber opened the scoring 37 seconds into the third, but Alexandre Burrows tied it midway through the period and Sweatt put the Canucks ahead for good a little less than 2 minutes later.
Daniel Sedin kept the puck in at the Nashville blue line and fed across to Sweatt to create a 2-on-1 down low with Burrows. Sweatt, in the lineup only after Alex Edler had back spasms, fired a shot under the blocker-side arm of goalie Pekka Rinne from the right faceoff dot.
``I was like, `I can't believe I just did that,' but it was a great pass and I pretty much just shot the puck,' said Sweatt, who started his first NHL game as the butt of a friendly joke by his new teammates.
The Canucks sent him out first for warmups, and no one followed, leaving Sweatt to skate the first few laps by himself in front of the home crowd. But they were all gathered around him after he scored the winning goal.
``We thought it was pretty funny,' Burrows said. ``But it shows a lot of depth when we have guys come up from the minors and play as well as he does.'
Vancouver has won two in a row after a 0-1-3 slide and only has two regulation losses in the last 25 games. The Canucks remain five points ahead of Detroit atop the Western Conference and tied Philadelphia for the NHL lead with 71 points.
Roberto Luongo finished with 26 saves, including a sprawling left-pad stop on Joel Ward with 26 seconds left and Rinne on the bench for an extra attacker.
``I didn't really see the puck,' Luongo said. ``I just saw the motion of the player and extended my leg and was able to get a piece of it with my skate.'
According to Nashville coach Barry Trotz, it was Luongo's shoulder stop on Marcel Goc midway through the period that decided the game. Burrows tied it 2 minutes later by banging in a rebound of his deflection from in tight.
``We score that goal I felt pretty confident we would have had two points,' Trotz said. ``He made a huge save and they came down and scored.'
Sweatt added the winner a couple of shifts later, spoiling an otherwise great game for Rinne, who finished with 33 saves as the Predators lost consecutive games for the first time since late December.
``He made a good shot,' Rinne said about Sweatt. ``Obviously, I'd like to have that back. We turned the puck over and they made us pay.'
Nashville, which fell six points behind Detroit in the Central Division race, controlled the first period. But after their 27th-ranked power play failed to convert three chances and two more in the second period, the Predators sat back a bit after Weber put them ahead early in the third.
Vancouver outshot the Predators 17-7 in the final period.
``We did want to clamp down but I think unfortunately we sat back, and that's not good against a team that's second in the NHL,' Weber said. ``They had lots of time to change the momentum and it went back in their favor.'
NOTES: Weber has nine goals and leads Nashville in scoring with 30 points. ... Luongo hasn't lost in regulation in 17 games (12-0-5). ... Predators RW J.P. Dumont returned after missing the last game because of an upper-body injury.
The Associated Press News Service
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