Anyone can play when they feel great. The measure of an athlete’s heart and ability is how he performs when he doesn’t feel well and nothing comes easily.

When you win on nights you shouldn’t, then you have something.

The Vancouver Canucks have something.

They should have been dead in the San Jose Shark-infested water here Thursday, badly outplayed and outshot and outchanced for most of the night and all of the first 40 minutes. But the Canucks have learned how to win the last month and, improbably, found a way to do it again by beating the Sharks 3-2.

“It proves your resiliency here,” centre Nick Bonino said. “We come in here and play probably two of the worst periods of the year and Millsy (goalie Ryan Miller) shuts the door and keeps us in it. It feels good.”

Put another way, as assistant coach Perry Pearn did to no one in particular: “Let’s get out of here before somebody calls the cops.”

Yes, the Canucks stole one. But there is an art to that, too.

“You have to find a way to get two points,” winger Radim Vrbata said. “Playing here is tough. The first 10 minutes ... you have to survive the first 10 minutes to give yourself a chance.”

The Canucks barely survived the first minute, then won over 60 minutes. And not a tenth of a second longer, as Joe Thornton’s tying goal at the buzzer entered the net a split-second too late.

“Somebody is on our side,” Miller said after a 34-save performance that lifted his record to 10-1 as a Canuck.

Mostly, Miller was on their side.

It looked at the start like hypoxia struck the Canucks two days after playing at altitude in Denver. They appeared to be missing a few brain cells in the opening minutes against the Sharks, who had three scoring chances in the first 20 seconds and five in the first minute. Defenceman Kevin Bieksa gave away the puck on one, Ryan Stanton tripped over his own feet on another. When the Canucks finally iced the puck, it marked an improvement in play.