Photo credit:© Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
The February 24 rematch against the Boston Bruins becomes the most important game on the Canucks’ upcoming calendar
23 days ago
To call Thursday’s 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins a demoralizing defeat for the Vancouver Canucks would be putting it mildly.
This was a disappointment with layers.
It was the Canucks’ first regulation loss in more than a month, going back to January 4’s 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues. It snapped a 12-game point-streak, the longest the Canucks had put together in some time.
It also marked Vancouver’s second shutout loss of the 2023/24 campaign, and the first since Game #3 on the season.
It was a defeat in which the Canucks’ best players looked especially defeated. JT Miller, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes were each -2 on the night. The Eliases Pettersson and Lindholm were both -4. Thatcher Demko let in four goals on 25 shots for a .840 save-percentage.
Two of the goals against were shorthanded, which continues a troubling trend. They were the third and fourth shorthanded goal against the Canucks over the past three games.
The Canucks didn’t just get beat, they got beat up a little bit, too. The official scoresheet had the hits at 26-25 in favour of the Canucks, but that didn’t measure the little behind-the-play cheapshots and frequent shoves to the ice. The Canucks had very little energy for any response of any kind, either on the scoreboard or in the scrums.
And we’ve gone this far without addressing the elephant in the room, but no farther. Thursday’s 4-0 loss to the Bruins was especially demoralizing, on top of all those other factors, was that it was a loss to the Bruins. Brad Marchand scored 32 seconds into the game!
There was very little that could take the winds out of the sails of the Canucks and their fans in the midst of a thrilling, success-filled 2023/24. But if any singular loss were going to do it, this was the one.
Fortunately, the Canucks have something here that they’ve rarely had in their Bruins-related disappointments of the past: a shot at redemption in the immediate future.
As teams in opposite conferences on the opposite side of the continent from one another, the Canucks and Bruins are unconventional rivals. It’s not mystery to anyone on either side of the rivalry why the hatred remains strong more than a dozen years after 2011, but it’s something that has continued in spite of infrequent matchups. Typically, these days, the Canucks and Bruins play twice each season, once in each home rink. In the past, it was just once per year. Even with two games on the schedule, they’re often months apart.
Many of us can remember all-too-vividly the stinging agony of the Canucks’ Game 7 loss to the Bruins back in 2011, which just so happened to also be a 4-0 shutout.
That time around, the Canucks had to wait more than half-a-year for any shot at redemption. “Game 8” came on January 7, 2022, and featured fights, cheapshots, and the greatest bar-down game-winner in franchise history by Cody Hodgson.
It was fun, it was rewarding, it was downright cathartic. But it ultimately didn’t mean all that much, coming in a regular season game so far down the road from the initial disappointment.
This time around, the Canucks have an opportunity for a much more meaningful and immediate redemption.
The Canucks play the Bruins again in a little more than two weeks time. It’ll be a Saturday night matchup on Hockey Night in Canada, and despite this being a home game for Vancouver, it’ll start at 4:00PM PST.
But for once, fans won’t be all that concerned about the start-time. This time, it’s all about the final results.
To say that any measure of success in what has already been an unbelievably successful 2023/24 season hinges on one singular game would be a mistake. But hockey is a sport of emotions, and a sport of pride, and it is probably fair to say that this singular game matters, at the very least, more than most of the rest of the regular season schedule.
The Canucks weren’t just beaten by the Bruins, they were embarrassed. It didn’t take much more than the camera’s frequent cuts to Rick Tocchet’s face to see exactly what the in-house feeling was on the Canucks’ performance.
This could prove to be consequential. The Canucks have been flying high on a lot of different factors this year, and if anything was going to change how they felt about themselves, it was a game like this…especially one coming so soon after the natural momentum-break of the All-Star Weekend.
Or, it could just be a bump in the road. Nothing more than a little course-correction before continuing on the same roll they’ve been on since October.
How they respond on February 24 when the Bruins come to town will go a long way toward determining the outcome. You just know that Tocchet and the team have already circled it on the calendar, and one can only imagine the sort of pre-game speech the players are going to receive from the coaching staff.
In the end, it’s just one game of 82 on the schedule, and even if the Canucks lose again, it doesn’t mean the 2023/24 is over and done with.
But winning that game, especially in convincing fashion, would go a long way toward restoring and perhaps even enhancing the fan’s confidence in the team, and the team’s confidence in itself.
That alone is enough to call it the most important game remaining on the team’s schedule, at least until the playoff positions start getting determined in April.
And that the opportunity comes so soon can only be described as fortunate…at least for now.
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