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CanucksArmy Postgame: Tyler Myers returns, but beating the Golden Knights still a tall order as Canucks fall 5-3 in Game Four

The Warmup

Last night, the assiduous Chris Faber stepped aside to give David Quadrelli, our designated postgame backup here at CanucksArmy, the start. But after a tough 3-0 loss, it’s Stephan Roget, the proverbial backup’s backup, who gets the tap tonight.

That’s right, you’re dealing with the Louis Domingue of postgame recappers tonight. And that means you shouldn’t just expect goodness, you should expect baked goodness.

After being shutout by Robin Lehner for the second time this series, the Canucks came into the evening’s matchup hungry for more than their third-string goalie’s sugary snacks.

But it would not be Lehner they had to solve at the other end of the ice, and instead his ostensible backup, Marc-Andre Fleury, bouncing back from a grievous sword wound faster than anyone this side of the Black Knight. Jon Merrill also came in to replace Nick Holden.

There would also be a change on coach Travis Green’s side of the lineup card, though not before a little lighthearted subterfuge from the Vancouver equipment staff.

On defence, Tyler Myers made his rumoured appearance in warmups and stuck around for the rest of the game, replacing Jordie Benn on the right side. Despite some whispers that he might be scratched to make way for the return of Zack MacEwen, Jake Virtanen stayed in the lineup — and got promoted to Bo Horvat’s wing, sending Brock Boeser down to the third line alongside Adam Gaudette and Antoine Roussel.

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And with that, it was time for puck drop on Game Four of the Western Conference Semi-Finals.

1st Period

As is tradition, each coach started their fourth line for a testy, tone-setting opening shift, and then both teams settled in for a few minutes of cautious, tentative hockey.

Myers survived his first shift back without so much as a scoring chance again, although he came awful close to taking a cross-checking penalty.

The first legitimate opportunity of the game came on a wraparound attempt from Chandler Stephenson that Brandon Sutter broke up with a well-time poke check.

Jacob Markstrom found himself under siege the next shift as the pace picked up, especially after Virtanen’s stick disintegrated on him while handling the puck in his own slot, but the Knights were unable to capitalize.

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Meanwhile, Tyler Motte, Minister of Forechecking, got to work early.

Just past the nine-minute mark, the Canucks took their second too-many-men penalty in as many nights when both Troy Stecher and Alex Edler hopped onto the ice to replace a single defender. It only took the top Vegas unit 25 seconds of powerplay time to work the puck back from Mark Stone to Max Pacioretty at the point, who wired it through a screen and right past Markstrom for the 1-0 lead.

Perhaps looking for a spark, Virtanen caught Stone up high with a check in the neutral zone that sent the Golden Knight’s stick flying and caught the attention of the Vegas bench, but not the officials.

The very next shift, Stephenson knocked Motte flying away from the puck and was sent off for interference, giving the Canucks their first powerplay of the game. And they’d need even less time than the Knights did to make their opponent pay for their transgression.

Vancouver’s top unit took on a tighter formation than usual, moving the puck from Quinn Hughes at the point down to JT Miller in the corner and then to Elias Pettersson, waiting right on the right-side dot. Pettersson patiently picked his spot, double-clutched, and then ripped it up and over Fleury, tying the game at 1-1 at the 11:15 mark of the first period — their first goal in more than 70 minutes of gameplay.

The tie, however, would not last, and disaster struck just a couple shifts later.

Ryan Reaves decked Hughes with a hard and high hit in the offensive zone, drawing the ire of Tyler Toffoli, who followed Reaves down the ice and whacked him several times with his stick. While all that was going on, however, the rest of the Knights broke down the ice on an odd-man rush, leading to Stephenson converting a Shea Theodore pass with Will Carrier all over Markstrom. The score was 2-1 Knights, and Reaves added insult to injury through a heated exchange of words between he and Green as he returned to the bench.

Pettersson was sprung on a breakaway by Troy Stecher shortly thereafter for a clean look at his second tying goal of the game, but he was unable to sneak a backhand past Fleury.

Boeser, clearly missing his captain, stayed out late on a shift and very nearly set up Bo Horvat for a chance in the slot, but Horvat was in too close to convert.

One final physical shift and a post-horn scrum later, the Canucks skated off after 20 minutes down a goal, and in serious need of coach Green directing some of those scornful words in their direction.

Intermission Highlight

Kevin Bieksa breaking down why the too-many-men call was entirely Oscar Fantenberg’s fault, despite it initially looking like Edler’s second such error in as many games. Leave it to Juice to bail out an old teammate, even from the studio. And, of course, this subtle jab:

2nd Period

Horvat’s line spent nearly the entire first minute of the period deep in the Golden Knights’ zone, culminating in a chance for Toffoli coming in hot off the bench that he flubbed.

The next shift, Stone slipped the puck past Stecher on a turnover and tried to tuck it past Markstrom, who jammed his skate against the post to make a timely save. Stone finished off the play by bowling Stecher over on top of Markstrom, touching off a heated scrum.

A few shifts later, it was again Horvat’s line creating pressure in the Knights’ end. Horvat himself battled down low and got back in front just in time to redirect an already redirected Edler shot from the point and then shovel it past Fleury for a 2-2 tie. Miller was awarded the primary assist, and Virtanen was due some credit for driving hard into Fleury.

The goal was Horvat’s league-leading ninth of the playoffs.

A shift later, Vegas nearly tied it, but Markstrom slid across to rob Jonathan Marchessault on the doorstep and made it look easy.

Another, less-intentional-looking save on Nate Schmidt would soon follow.

And after a TV timeout, it was Fleury’s turn to make his mark on the highlight reel, busting out a slick glove hand to stymy Pettersson in close.

Two strong stops on Gaudette and Jay Beagle were next on the docket for everyone’s favourite impromptu sheath.

Just as the game started to open up past the midway mark of the second period, Stephenson chopped down on Chris Tanev and sent the Canucks to their second powerplay, complete with another commercial break to ensure the top unit was fully rested — and, for once, Vancouver fans had a reason to be grateful for yet another choice selection of repetitive advertisements.

Looking just as confident as ever, Hughes dropped off the puck with Miller and then punched into the zone himself, taking a pass back and driving all the way down to the goal-line before setting Toffoli up with a picture-perfect setup. Toffoli made no mistake in snapping it past Fleury for the 3-1 lead, marking the first in-game lead change of the series, and a perfect two-for-two record on the man advantage.

One phantom Marchessault high-stick on Stecher later, and the Canucks were right back on the powerplay, with the ice having clearly tilted in their favour — though they’d be unable to even register a shot on this two-minute attempt.

Marchessault’s tough night continued when he failed to get adequately out of the way of Markstrom as he charged past the crease, clipping the Canucks’ goaltender and skating angrily off to the penalty box once again when he was called for it. This time, the best looks came from the second unit, but none of them made it through Fleury.

A few more late-period heroics from Markstrom, and now it was the Canucks who got to skate off at the horn with a one-goal lead, and the spirits of their fanbase firmly lifted.

Intermission Highlight

Anthony Stewart’s breathless coverage of Myers losing his breath. Finally, analysis of NHL action we can all relate to!

And this little bit of sunshine from David Amber:

3rd Period

The third started off with a few minutes of scrambly play culminating in a couple of opportunities for the Golden Knights that Markstrom shrugged aside. But with the Canucks still trapped in their own end and discarded sticks lying all over the ice, Schmidt accepted a short pass from partner Merrill on the blueline and absolutely blasted one past a sprawling Motte and under the arm of Markstrom, knotting the game at 3-3 a little less than three minutes into the period.

A couple more hectic shifts later, and Brandon Sutter just missed tapping in a Motte dish, precipitating another stint of extended pressure in the Vegas end and another close call for Virtanen.

The Golden Knights persevered through the pressure, however, and eventually turned it back up ice on a three-on-two break. Tanev effectively tied up a hard-driving Pacioretty, but the puck bounced off the Vegas winger anyway and slid into the back of the net. A near-accidental goal for the 4-3 lead, the Knights’ third of the night.

And the bad bounces weren’t done with the Canucks quite yet.

Myers’ bungling of the puck in his own slot led to a chance that popped over the net, and right into the hand of Pacioretty, who quickly dropped it to himself and redirected it to William Karlsson, waiting on the doorstep to bat it past Markstrom for a 5-3 advantage at the 8:29 mark of the final frame.

Three unanswered goals from the Knights, and suddenly this was a very different hockey game. A Roussel trip in the neutral zone didn’t help matters, sending the Knights to another powerplay with time starting to run out on the Canucks’ comeback chances — though they did manage to survive some nice passing plays and escape the penalty unscathed.

Coach Green put the Lotto Line back together, but the only play of note on their reunion shift was an attempt by Brayden McNabb to erase Boeser in mid-ice that Boeser avoided just in time, causing an awkward collision. Their knees collided, but both players got up immediately, none the worse for wear.

With time winding down, Fleury took an Edler wrister off the chest and then batted it out of play, giving the Canucks a two-minute opportunity to close the gap. Green pulled Markstrom to make it six-on-four, but Vancouver failed to even establish themselves in the Knights’ end until most of Fleury’s minor had elapsed. A timeout later Horvat won a key draw back to Miller, who rang it off the post and out.

As the powerplay ended, Markstrom remained on the bench. After Nick Cousins and Alex Tuch each missed on attempts at the empty net, the Canucks took one last crack at it with Gaudette’s third line on the ice — but despite a late drive from Virtanen, that was all she wrote.

The Canucks fell 5-3 in Game Four, giving the Golden Knights a commanding 3-1 series lead heading into Game Five.

The Wrap-Up

Life as a Canucks fan is always an emotional rollercoaster, but it was especially rollercoastery on Sunday night.

A slow start gave way to two miniature comebacks and then a Toffoli marker midway through the game that seemed to put the Canucks firmly in command of the momentum.

Then, three unanswered goals in less than six minutes in the third period, and it was pretty much over.

Most underlying metrics will show that, despite showing some resilience and fortitude in the middle frame, the Canucks were overwhelmed by the Knights all night long, and now that’s reflected in both the final score and the state of the series.

A far greater effort will be required if the Canucks hope to make their next game something other than their last.

Fancy Stats At A Glance

Gameflow from Canucks vs Vegas Golden Knights August 30, 2020 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)

Heatmap from Canucks vs Vegas Golden Knights August 30, 2020 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)

Top Performers

JT Miller

With three assists, Miller was in on every Canucks goal tonight. He also led all Vancouver forwards, and was second to only Hughes, in ice-time with 22:02, including a whopping 6:04 on the powerplay, where he picked up two of his helpers. Four hits were second among forwards.

Troy Stecher

Stecher played the fewest minutes of any Vancouver defender tonight, but he arguably performed the best. He was the only defenseman to not be on the ice for a goal against, and his team controlled both shots and high-danger scoring chances while he was out there. Another subtle, but strong, night from Stecher.

Quinn Hughes

Hughes looked like he might be done for when he took a major hit from Reaves, but it only seemed to wake the rookie defender up. Two powerplay assists and some confident moves later, and Hughes appeared to be back up to his old standard, though it wasn’t enough to power the Canucks to a win despite a staggering 24:29 of ice-time. It’s worth noting, however, that Hughes had one of his worst possession games in recent memory with an even-strength Corsi of just 30%.

Next Game

Game Five goes Tuesday, September 1, with a start-time of 6:45 PM PST.