The Stanchies: JT Miller’s leadership, Zadorov’s slick skating, and Brock Boeser’s statement game

Photo credit:© Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
The Stanchion
1 month ago
In life, context matters.
Having a nice meal is a delight. Having a nice meal after a hard day’s work and without having eaten all day? That’s a next-level cuisine-based journey
Getting a text from your friend? That’s fun. Getting a text from your crush that ends with them sending a combination of wink and heart emojis? That is a day that shapes and moulds your entire week.
Upgrading a moral victory into a real one in hockey? Hey, that’s something you can really build on.
Beating the Boston Bruins after being down 2-0, then tying the game up late in the third period, and then ultimately winning in overtime?
That’s just straight-up sex, baby. Or coitus, for the distinguished people in the back.
Regardless, you couldn’t have written a better script of a team “learning a lesson,” something we all know Rick Tocchet loves.
You had JT Miller leading by example, willing his team back into the game, keeping the bench calm despite being down 2-0 in the third period.
You had Fil Hronek, he of the “wtf are you doing with that slap shot, why do you hate me” infamy, coming up huge with a last minute snapshot from the point.
You had Brock Boeser playing an integral part on all three goals despite the whispers that maybe his hair has grown too shaggy and his sideburns too long, so maybe it’s holding him back.
You had Quinn Hughes playing not his flashiest game of the year but maybe one of his most effective, eating up 27 minutes of ice time like very few players can in this league.
You had Thatcher Demko refusing to give another inch after letting in two goals.
You had the Green Men coming out of retirement, even if their body suits left very little to the imagination in this 4K world hockey broadcasts now exist in.
You had Nikita Zadorov swashbuckling up and down the ice like a young Bret Hedican, except maybe around 9 feet taller, forcing the Bruins back on their heels all night long.
You had Ilya Mikheyev…well, Ilya was there.
You had Rick Tocchet himself, the man who said it was his fault the team wasn’t ready to compete against Seattle, turn out one of the most complete efforts of the season from his team.
The point is, context matters. Even when it’s, as JT Miller cautioned post-game, just a February hockey game. Because despite being a regular-season game against a tired Boston Bruins team, that game mattered.
It mattered because it prevented a five game losing streak.
It mattered because it showed the Canucks resolve in a game that very much was tight, like a playoff game.
And while it didn’t matter that it was against the Boston Bruins, it did matter that it was against a top team in the league (it was just an added bonus that the victory was over the 2011 forever-rivals).
It was cathartic for all of these reasons and more.
And while harder games lay ahead, and certainly higher mountains will be in their paths, the Vancouver Canucks gave the city something to feel extremely proud about on a Saturday night in February.
After the last decade of misery and sadness, you would be excused if you wanted to take a second and just sit back so you can savour the moment.
When are the playoffs again?
Boldest lineup decisions
After four losses in a row, it’s hard to question any lineup changes a coach decides to test out. They could have sent out feelers to see if Andrew Ebbett wanted to go for another spin with the team, and you would begrudgingly accept it and at least be content that his number 25 was still available and wouldn’t cause any locker room tension.
Also, running a lineup leaning on your centre depth against the Boston Bruins is probably never a poor choice.
Boldest lineup decisions part 2
As noted earlier, the Green Men came out of retirement to continue Vancouver’s infinite feud with Boston that will never die until the Canucks win a Stanley Cup, and Brad Marchand is openly weeping, even if he’s been retired for 37 years.
Sadly they came out of retirement on a night in which very few powerplays were handed out, but they did almost make James Van Riemsdyk openly laugh in the penalty box.
The hardest battle may have been on the ice, but a close second was JVR trying to make sure he held back his giggles.
Best battle of inches
A caveat before we start this article in depth.
This was a game of inches, one in which it felt like the Canucks had locked in a moral victory the second they went down 2-0 to the Bruins.
So, as a result, despite a game in which the Canucks won 3-2, this article will feel like a lot of overanalyzing is being done on small plays. And the reason is because that’s kind of how playoff-style games go, where you start looking deep into any play that could reveal something about the team in question.
And you know what?
Sometimes, the better team loses.
Sometimes, the better team doesn’t get the bounces.
And sometimes, the better team doesn’t do quite enough to make their hard efforts pay off.
For the majority of this game, that’s what it felt like. That the Canucks were battling hard and were gaining possession of the puck, and even though they were slowly but surely taking over the game, they didn’t have nearly enough traffic in front of the Bruins goaltender and noted hug enthusiast Jeremy Swayman.
Which is why we find ourselves demanding answers from Elias Lindholm for sending this pass into the feet of Corolla Garland:
One of the benefits of playing with Corolla is seeing how he swings right back into the play and helps create another turnover. That’s the joy of owning a Corolla. That even when you take a wrong turn you know you’ll be back on the right track within seconds, and with good fuel economy to boot.
Also, that trunk IS bigger than you think it is.
Best putting your fist down
The Boston Bruins’ best period was in the first period, which shouldn’t be a surprise for a team playing its third game in four nights, all of which went to overtime.
This is probably why the ice slowly tilted in the Canucks favour — because they made life pretty hard on the Boston Bruins, something JT Miller pointed out after the game.
“We made them use all their energy in their own end, and you know, that team makes its centres do a lot of work, so when you do that, it’s hard to play offence when you’re tired.”
But early on, the Canucks were playing maybe a bit loose, maybe chasing those hits a little too much, and the Bruins were countering them for high-danger chances:
The Canucks tried to be aggressive on the puck on the powerplay, as one does, but the Bruins countered it into an odd-man rush that Thatcher Demko made a solid save on.
Also note the work of Quinn Hughes, who played that two-on-one without slip and sliding and by cutting off the passing lane but also giving a little bit of pressure on the shooting lane, which seemed to freeze up Charlie Coyle enough until he almost ran out of room.
This is how you crush it on defence defending odd man rushes, to the point that you know what, I’m starting to think the Canucks have something in this Quinn Hughes kid.
The Canucks would then give up another two-on-one, this time after the Chaos Giraffe held onto his shot a little too long:
Fil Hronek plays this one a bit more dangerously than Hughes, as he gives up the passing lane to try and block the shot, which opened up the possibility of a tip in had the pass been slightly more accurate.
But the physical game? It was easy to see on a night when Vancouver held the edge in hits 30-18 how it could take its toll on the Bruins.
Noah Juulsen, who has struggled during the losing streak, made a big play on the Bruins’ best player in David Pastrnak:
Earlier in the game, Nikita Zadorov also stood up Pasta at the blue line, halting a zone entry in its tracks:
Usually hitting is framed under the guise of “sending a message”, which is a fancy way of saying the Canucks were sending metaphorical angry texts at the Bruins threatening to murder them.
But in reality, this physical play let the Bruins know what kind of night they were in for. That if they wanted the puck, they’d better be ready to battle for it. And maybe the next time a loose puck is in front of Pastrnak in a 50/50 race, he will ease up and avoid that physical confrontation because the last time didn’t feel so good.
That’s the kind of psychological edge Rick Tocchet seemed to be implying about in the game against Seattle, about making sure his players were ready to do whatever it took to win a puck battle, and it was on full display Saturday night in Vancouver.
Best nearly Nils
Many of the scoring chances the Canucks generated during the first two periods were good, but not great? Good in that they got a shot off from the slot, but not great in that they didn’t have a lot of traffic in front of Swayman.
It’s like when you order clothes online and they don’t have your size, so you just picture what they might have looked like on you. Good, but not great. Room for improvement, as my mother would constantly tell me every time I finished a task.
For example, here is Nils Hoglander taking the puck after a long shift in the Bruins’ zone, and driving hard to the slot so he can get a shot off:
The 5 v 5 King does his job, but Mikheyev doesn’t offer up much of a screen, and then Ilya follows that up by just sort of standing his ground and boxing out my inner childhood demons, but doesn’t really have an active stick going on.
So again, good, but not great, which, as we know, is the perfect recipe for a moral victory. This is why we all thought a loss was coming, we’ve seen this story before.
Best the road to hell is paved with good slashes
Standing up for your team? Good.
Standing up for your team where you make it pretty hard for an official to not penalize for you? Not great:
I get it, Tyler Myers sees Sam Lafferty get trucked into the boards, and he wants the Bruins to know that’s not cool. He’s an alpha giraffe and his natural instinct is to either protect his herd or quit hockey, jump in a Ferrari, and become a surfing instructor in Burnaby. Such is the nature of a chaotic beast like Tyler.
The problem is you’ve just seen a big hit, so you know officials are watching to see what happens next, so you absolutely cannot follow that up running at the guy, colliding, and then getting in his face so you can openly slash him.
It’s kind of like seeing a car accident happen in front of you, and while everyone is making sure the driver is all right, you walk up and tell them the jerk store called, and then reach down and steal their wallet. All eyes are on you in that moment, this is not the time for petty crimes.
The good news is the Canucks killed off the powerplay, but in playoff type games, these are the kinds of moments that can live on in infamy should your team lose the game.
Best understanding your line mates
It became clear after one period that Zadorov was feeling it, as he has never looked better moving with the puck on his stick then he did against the Bruins. It’s hard to sustain pressure on the forecheck when a giant Russian guy is skating by you at 87mph, threatening to travel back in time and possibly stop you from ever getting into hockey.
And maybe EP40 was feeling what Zaddy Daddy was feeling, as he made sure to get the puck to Zadorov on this odd-man rush:
Ilya Mikheyev was being defended quite well on that play, so the absolute right call was to drop it back to Zadorov, but part of me thinks EP40 saw Ilya and thought to himself, “No, not this time,” and made the call to go to Zadorov.
Best keeping it close
The Canucks weren’t just doing the little things well in this game, they were doing the medium things properly as well.
Here, Brock Boeser and JT Miller generate a shot on net after JT drives hard into the zone and finds a rotating Brock Boeser open for a shot:
I have plenty of other examples of these kinds of plays and shifts (many of which were from JT Miller’s line), but they amounted to a lot of board battles, and races to the pucks, and solid rotations, which is what Quads always tells me “aren’t the sexy gifs”. “Sex sells!!” he screams at me as I offer up a good clip of Elias Lindholm getting his stick in a passing lane, subtly winning a battle with his mind.
The point is, the Canucks were honestly playing quite good, they were! JT Miller, in particular, came out throwing hits and dragging the puck across the blue line for zone entries, and generally being the high-end playmaker we’ve seen from him all season.
The problem again, was, that it wasn’t great. Not yet.
Which is how the Canucks found themselves down 1-0:
Usually faceoffs just outside your opponent’s zone aren’t what we’d call a dangerous situation, but that’s what happens when Hronek makes a tepid pokecheck and ends up watching Justin Brazeau push the puck behind him, before eventually finding Jesper Boqvist for the tap in goal.
Again, the Canucks had been playing well, but on one play everything just went to shit.
You have Sam Lafferty and Ted Talks Blueger colliding and falling over on the faceoff.
You have Hronek making a play on the puck so soft that any Dairy Queen employee worth their salt would refuse to flip it over in front of you for fear of it sliding out of the cup.
And then you have Phillip Di Giuseppe releasing Boqvist and basically going “I’m sure Hronek has this under control.” and peace-ing out for a lunch break.
A lot of things went wrong in a matter of seconds, and as a result, the Bruins got their first goal.
Best better make it two
The Bruins then went up 2-0 after they found a way to set up shop in the crease:
This is an important moment because it showcased how the Canucks weren’t able to do the same up until this point.
The Bruins? They were generating odd-man rushes. They were finding ways to get a guy set up in the crease. They were finding ways to screen Demko.
The Canucks? They were generating shots, but they didn’t feel threatening. Their shots were rated PG, while the Bruins were bordering on 18A.
Now add in some puck luck, and yeah, the Canucks were down 2-0. Even on this second goal, the Canucks didn’t defend that poorly. They, in fact, made several very good defensive plays before that goal.
It’s just that hockey can be mean sometimes, and it doesn’t care how hard you try.
According to the movie The Rock, losers try their best.
Winners go home and, well, they enjoy coitus with the prom queen.
Best making it easy on them
A common theme on the night was JT Miller forcing turnovers, and Brock Boeser making smart decisions with the puck.
One such occasion resulted in a shot from the point from Fil Hronek, which was nice because it didn’t start a giant debate over slapshots vs wristshots vs snapshots vs head fakes vs skating right then passing back to Quinn Hughes:
Hey, that’s a good play. But when Hronek is teeing up a slapshot with nobody in front of the net? Odds are the good goalies in the league are going to stop it. Dan Cloutier might make you think otherwise, but I assure you, long shots like this from the point should not go in.
It’s something Rick Tocchet talked about in the post-game, about how the team needs to find a way to not just get guys in front of the net, but to layer the players in front of the goalie, and to get players skating downhill into the crease so they can jump on rebounds better.
Best inspiring J-Pats tweet
I’m convinced the players read these Jeff tweets and take it personally, so they come out better in third periods.
Best playing with fire
The moment this game hung in the balance for me was when Ian Cole made a sloppy play with his stick early in the third and took a penalty:
That’s just a bad play from a veteran on your team. You can’t be waving your stick near Brad Marchand’s skate and not expect him to find a way to trip on it.
If the Bruins score on that powerplay I think we’re back to talking about moral victories. To the Canucks credit, they were very strong on the penalty kill.
Hey, you know who looked fantastic on the penalty kill, especially with his skating?
Nikita Zadorov.
Easily the best game of his Canucks career.
Best ghosting
Ilya Mikheyev continues to be an expensive question for Elias Pettersson, as he once again had a game in which you struggled to see his impact.
He did have moments where he was in the right spots, but he just couldn’t finish:
It’s good that Ilya was in the slot and tried to get two shots off.
It just wasn’t great that he couldn’t score.
The biggest play for me, and the last we pretty much saw of Mikheyev, was on this play in which he had two options, pass to Elias Pettersson, who was banging his stick, begging for the pass, or shoot it slowly on net to get a faceoff:
A faceoff in your opponents end is never a bad thing, and EP40 going in against three Bruins probably results in the same scenario of a face off in the Bruins zone.
It’s just the majority of Ilya’s offensive plays topping out at “hey he got a faceoff at least?” is not a great thing? Feels like we could aim a bit higher?
Best calling your shot
According to Zadorov, JT Miller drew this play up due to how he saw the Bruins lining up:
The end result? Brock Boeser getting a goal and getting the Canucks, and more importantly, the arena, back into the game. Despite the ongoing debate over intangibles, players 100% feed off of a crowd because after this goal, the Canucks were a different team.
Gone was the hesitation, gone was the overthinking, and in its place was the team that sent six players to the All-Star game.
The best part about this is anytime JT Miller is asked about in game strategies, he gets all shifty-eyed and turns into Johnny Tightlips, for fear of giving away too much intel.
Which don’t get me wrong, it’s 100% the right thing for him to do. Nobody needs him diving into detail set plays he likes to run.
It’s just amusing to see it play out, and watch in real time as JT is told that Zadorov said he called the play and then watch as he tries to artfully explain it without saying too much.
Best tight, like a playoff game
The thing about games like this is just how easily they can swing the other way.
An example of this is when the Canucks got within one, the Bruins pushed back a little bit and almost scored when JT Miller tried to do too much by skating through several Bruins:
That’s a massive save from Demko on a blunder from Miller. If that goes in, the Bruins could have easily ridden that to victory. One small moment and the Bruins fans are the ones mocking you on the Skytrain home instead of the other way around.
Which is the harsh nature of sports, really. Someone smarter than me recently said that at the end of the day, when you take a step back and really look at sports, you realize how little control you have over it all.
You can put together the best team in the world, and all it takes is an injury to Manny Malholtra and a butterfly effect kicks in that costs you the Stanley Cup.
Best it was that close
See how close we were to a moral victory?
The Canucks got to within a goal, and they got a good shot on net, and we were all ready to call it a day:
I honestly was getting ready to create a gif of an empty net goal.
Best moral victories are for suckers
Hey, you know what’s better than a slapshot? A snapshot:
With an extra man on the ice, a situation the Canucks have not done well in as of late, they actually managed to tie the game up.
Even better, it was a Hronek point shot that beat the goalie.
Another thing to note? The layers going on in this goal.
Not only did Brock Boeser set up a fantastic screen in the crease, but you had Elias Lindholm in the middle of the slot, offering up a tip possibility or the ability to crash the net downhill for a rebound.
At the end of the day neither was needed, as Fil the Other Thrill went top shelf where mom keeps the expired medication she assures you is still ok to take.
Best putting it on ice
And with the Bruins in the penalty box for too many men on the ice, the Canucks ended it in clinical fashion:
Quinn Hughes is just so ridiculously good at dragging players with him when he skates. His ability to draw the attention of the defence and then open up space on the ice is amongst the best in the league, if not the best.
Once he draws in his defender, he finds JT Miller with space, which causes the Bruins to shift over to guard him, which gives just enough room for JT to find Brock Boeser all alone in front for the Garland-esque tap in.
Three goals, and three times Miller and Boeser were instrumental in them. If that isn’t a statement game from two of your top players I don’t know what else is.
You know what? That goal wasn’t good.
It was great.
Best closing thoughts
That overtime goal might have been the loudest I have heard Rogers Arena all season long. To say Vancouver fans are ready for the playoffs would be an understatement. The crowd was as loud and defiant as any first round match up I have heard when the Canucks clawed their way back into the game in the third period. Sometimes mental anguish and despair is truly the best recipe for an intense sporting atmosphere, as the Dragon slaying goal proved to us.
However, let’s get back to the context of this game. JT Miller wasn’t wrong. This is just another game in February. The win was nice, and a great example of a 60 minute effort, but at the end of the day two points is still just two points. There is still along stretch of hockey left in front of this club.
But for a team that is constantly being asked to learn lessons and show that they’re ready for a deep run in the playoffs? The game on Saturday night felt like a good nudge in the right direction.
Hell, a great nudge.

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