Van-tastic matchup

Bertuzzi will battle his old Canucks linemate Naslund tonight in New York. (Lyle Aspinall, Sun...

Bertuzzi will battle his old Canucks linemate Naslund tonight in New York. (Lyle Aspinall, Sun Media)

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Trying to dish the puck to Jarome Iginla in the slot, Todd Bertuzzi's pass was foiled when it hit the side of the net he was parked behind.

Earlier in the game, occupying prime real estate himself, the rubber bounced right off his blade and out of harm's way.

The Calgary Flames winger's redemption came in the third period of that 4-3 overtime win over the Blues in St. Louis when he attempted the same pass to Iginla and got it to his captain, who quickly scored to cut a two-goal deficit in half.

Frustrated as he's been during a 14-game goal drought that has him joking he's on suicide watch, Bertuzzi clearly sees the lesson.

"Stick with it," he said. "If (that first pass is) an inch higher, it's on Iggy's stick for another tap-in.

"It's been frustrating, but ... I don't think they expected me to come in and score 50 or 60 goals, so maybe I have a little bit of breathing room."

After opening the season with seven goals in his first 11 games, Bertuzzi's been silenced in the goal column.

Still, he's surpassed the expectations of many who were unsure what to expect from the veteran free agent signing.

So has his buddy and former Vancouver Canucks teammate Markus Naslund, who landed in the Big Apple when he inked a deal with the New York Rangers this summer. Tonight, they face off with neither wearing the Canucks colours for the first time since their West Coast Express heyday.

"I keep tabs on him. I talk to him quite a bit and see how he's doing," Bertuzzi said yesterday after a practice at the MSG Training Center in Tarrytown. "We've got one of those friendships. We're always seeing what's going on with each other. Whether it's competitive or not, we still kind of cheer for each other and hope the other does well."

The two spent parts of eight seasons together with the Canucks, and although Bertuzzi has been from Florida, to Detroit and Anaheim in between, he never thought he'd see Naslund in any other uniform.

"No. I thought he was going to end his career there," Bertuzzi said.

"He did a lot of good things there. But at the same time, he needed a fresh start and he's quite happy from what I know."

It's showing on the ice.

Naslund leads the Rangers with 10 goals this year, putting him in the running for his first 30-goal season since Bertuzzi's last campaign on the coast. As both pondered their futures this summer as unrestricted free agents, they talked about a potential reunion.

"I was going through the same thing, so we spoke and tried to figure a few things out. Yeah, we talked about (playing together again). We gave it a pretty good try. It wasn't to be, and I think it's beneficiary for both where he's at and where I'm at."

Days after Naslund joined the Rangers, Bertuzzi signed with the Flames.

"He wasn't going to a Canadian city. I knew that for sure," Bertuzzi said of Naslund, who was eager to get away from the grind of playing in a hockey hotbed. "But I was ready to make the step and come in and play."


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